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View Full Version : Sci Fi fans' take on the work of Heinlen, Asimov and Clarke



emax100
12-30-2014, 12:50 AM
Since I have seen some debate and discussion here on the big three of Sci Fi, I was wondering what the results would be for a poll on three of the leaders of Sci Fi now that their legacy and their works have been reevaluated. And so the poll is to get an idea of AWers' stance.

Filigree
12-30-2014, 01:32 AM
I voted, but I feel that there might be a nuance missing from the options: All three of these writers left their permanent mark on science fiction.

Some of their stories were great, some awful to modern eyes and sensibilities. They are all slightly different parts of a phase of the spec fiction writing culture; to ignore that, and the distinctions between them, is about as foolish as ignoring key parts of history.

dpaterso
12-30-2014, 02:02 AM
I found that, with some mental gymnastics, I could get behind All three of them are among the greats whose best work hasn't been topped.

They're among the greats, for sure. And their best work may have been equaled by some new blood Sci-Fi writers, but I don't think they've been topped.

-Derek

jjdebenedictis
12-30-2014, 02:09 AM
I shall respect my fellow writers, dead or otherwise, but I can't say I like Heinlein or Asimov's writing that much, and although I like some of Clarke's work very much indeed, 3001 was a miss, in my opinion.

The real problem is their stories were the foundation upon which other authors built better science fiction. I have the privilege of reading the better novels, and so I don't have as much ardour for the foundation. It's a bit like how Lord of the Rings is wonderful, but there are a whole lot of other fantasy books I'd re-read before I'd re-read them. Novels that move faster; novels that have women in them. (Okay, okay, Eowen was awesome-adjacent, but in the books, Arwen doesn't even speak, and all the elves, Galadriel included, were Mary Sues.)

stephenf
12-30-2014, 02:29 AM
Hi
I'm not sure I understand your poll . All the writers on your list have written some
really good stories . Some of the stories may seem a bit weak for modern readers , but I would prefer you actuly discuss writers work individually . To reduce three people's life work to a competition seems a bit pointless .

Brightdreamer
12-30-2014, 03:23 AM
I've read a little Clarke and one of Asimov's (I may have read one Heinlein short), so I may not be well qualified...

But those were the names that built the genre my father still loves. These were forward-thinkers, exploring ideas about things that may come - and, in truth, have come. And even a lifelong fan like Dad, looking back on them, can see that the stories themselves are somewhat dated, even if the ideas and concepts have withstood the test of time. (Actually, I think Asimov himself acknowledged this effect. IIRC, in one of the sci-fi anthologies he compiled of old 1930's-ish sci-fi tales, Asimov comments that it wasn't until he was going back over the stories to compile them that he realized how ridiculously racist the old sci-fi stuff was: all black aliens were brutish and evil, all yellow aliens were devious and clever, all white aliens were good, etc. But at the time he first read them, he didn't even see that; he just saw the ideas and such that inspired him. Because he was as much a part of that era as the writers were. Even as an iconic sci-fi author, a man who should, theoretically, be able to envision the future and craft Ideas beyond prejudice and the distorting lenses of his own era, Asimov had his blind spots. As do we all.)

I suppose my equivalent would be Tolkien, in fantasy. Were his books groundbreaking? Yes. Did they leave an indelible mark on the genre? Clearly. Can they still be enjoyed today? Quite obviously. But are they somehow sacrosanct, incapable of aging or impossible to critique because of Who Wrote Them, a Grand Master and Father of Literature? No book is beyond that.

(I guess I just don't like the idea of cordoning off certain works or authors, setting them on pedestals to be worshipped. One can acknowledge the import and impact of a book, or a person, without transforming them into a larger-than-life icon beyond question, as sometimes seems to happen when people label things as The Greats.)

kuwisdelu
12-30-2014, 03:29 AM
I generally prefer character-driven stories over concept-driven stories, so most of their work isn't my thing. At least from what I remember. It's been a while.

Mr Flibble
12-30-2014, 03:38 AM
Eh, preferred Eric Frank Russell

Layla Lawlor
12-30-2014, 03:52 AM
I don't think any of the poll options fit my thoughts on these writers very well. None of the three are personal favorites of mine (though all of them have books or short stories that I've enjoyed), but I feel that they made great contributions to the field and should be recognized for that. However, other people are writing works now that I like better, many of which probably would not exist (at least not quite in their present forms) if not for the work of these writers. But I'm not sure how much I enjoy their works all on their own, and I don't think they should be considered "required reading" for new writers in the field, or studied in any particular way -- I think it's perfectly fine to just move on and read newer writers instead, if those are more to one's taste. Does that make sense?

eyeblink
12-30-2014, 03:59 AM
In some parts of fandom, suggesting that Heinlein was not all that is fighting talk. There may be a transatlantic divide there: here in the UK, other than four or five titles in the SF Masterworks series pretty much all of Heinlein is out of print.

I read a fair amount of Asimov and Clarke, in my teens especially. Some Heinlein (a few novels). Their place in defining the genre, and in becoming the first bestsellers from within in, isn't in doubt. Asimov in particular is a good place to start in your teens: ideas-driven in plain style, without much in the way of messy emotional stuff. He's the default voice of a certain type of SF. But I'd like to think I've grown past him, into writers who knew more about style and characterisation.

Clarke was never really much into style or character either, though he could be a more graceful writer than Asimov at his best.

Mr Flibble
12-30-2014, 04:01 AM
In some parts of fandom, suggesting that Heinlein was not all that is fighting talk.

*prepares dukes*

:d

Eh, ideas cool. Execution....not my bag baby

zanzjan
12-30-2014, 04:03 AM
It's not a very meaningful poll, IMO.

All three of them wrote SF a long time ago. The literary context was vastly different, as was the culture in which they lived and their work had impact.

For their time, they were important. Have they been "topped"? How do you judge that except against their contemporaries? Certainly the SF field as a whole has wonderfully diversified and moved the target much further out than it used to be, and its audience vastly expanded; it's hard not to look back on a lot of their works with our modern reader sensibilities and not find some of the richness we've come to expect of the genre distinctly lacking. It does a disservice to the authors you name to try to judge them by a 2014 yardstick, and a disservice to 2014 authors to try to promote the fairly ridiculous idea that the ultimate measure of their work is many decades-old "Golden Age" SF.

slhuang
12-30-2014, 04:36 AM
I also don't think the poll quite encompasses me. +1 on exactly this:


I don't think any of the poll options fit my thoughts on these writers very well. None of the three are personal favorites of mine (though all of them have books or short stories that I've enjoyed), but I feel that they made great contributions to the field and should be recognized for that. However, other people are writing works now that I like better, many of which probably would not exist (at least not quite in their present forms) if not for the work of these writers. But I'm not sure how much I enjoy their works all on their own, and I don't think they should be considered "required reading" for new writers in the field, or studied in any particular way -- I think it's perfectly fine to just move on and read newer writers instead, if those are more to one's taste. Does that make sense?

I think it's complicated. I think finding these three holy and un-criticize-able is indeed "overrating" them, if you want to call it that, and they certainly aren't my particular favorites -- in terms of personal love, I grew up adoring Asimov (though Robots, not Foundation), read and appreciated some of Clarke but wasn't obsessed, and read and appreciated some of Heinlein while wondering WTF on other Heinlein. I certainly think people can have whatever personal opinions they have on the three and their styles, and I certainly think they can be criticized as both authors and people, both in and out of their time.

But I don't think there is any denying the impact they had on the field, and I accord respect for that. I do not think according such respect and leveraging any criticism I might feel -- however harsh -- are mutually exclusive. :D

amergina
12-30-2014, 04:40 AM
I didn't vote because the options are horribly biased.

I cut my teeth on Asimov, Clarke, and Niven. Those are my personal historical big-3 SF authors.

Can they be topped? Sure. Have they been? Sure.

Did they have a huge impact on the SF genre? Abso-frigging-lutely!

And there are authors out there today having a big old impact on the genre RIGHT now. It's called life.

Amadan
12-30-2014, 04:59 AM
I'm going to use my Newton analogy again - saying that Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke are the best ever and no one since has done better is like saying Sir Isaac Newton was the best physicist ever.

Newton was perhaps the most brilliant in his field, at a time when the field was new and he didn't have much competition.

Heinlein and Asimov and Clarke were groundbreakers, trailblazers, and inspired generations. And I still love many of their stories.

But some of what they wrote was crap.

I Will Fear No Evil has only the excuse that Heinlein literally had brain fever when he wrote it. And most of what Asimov wrote made it hard for me to believe he'd ever even talked to a woman. Clarke - brilliant, big ideas, boring as hell execution.

They certainly did not write the best sci-fi that's ever been written, but much of the best sci-fi that's ever been written was probably inspired by them.

I don't understand the point of the poll. There are a dozen SF authors I'd rather read nowadays than any of those three (though I do still love my Heinlein juveniles).

Roxxsmom
12-30-2014, 05:21 AM
I think a lot of the old giants of fantasy and SF are viewed through the rose-hued glasses of time. I've long since lost count of the people who have said, wistfully, that they long for the good old days when SF was diamond hard. They usually cite Heinlein and these others as an example.

Heinlein wrote a story about telepathic twins communicating across space and time at near light speeds, FFS.

Also, they were big fish in relatively small ponds. They stood head and shoulders above the competition, in part, because they were creating their genres.

They deserve credit for being pioneers. And they wrote some damned fine stuff that has stood the test of time in various ways. They were also products of their time in others, and they wrote some stuff that makes this painfully clear. Some of their work is almost unreadable to me because of this.

So yeah, I think they tend to be overrated in hind sight. It's hard for modern writers to stand out in the same way because there are so many SF and fantasy writers, and the tastes of fans is more compartmentalized than they once were. Most of my favorite writers started their careers a good decade or two (or more) after they did, and there are some new writers I like a great deal too. I think the bar for what's "good" is much higher now.

One thing I've noticed is that these "dead, white males" of SF tend to make it onto every top 10, 25, 50 and 100 best SF/F books ever list, while books by more recent authors (many more of whom are women and people of color than in Heinlein's, Clarke's, and Asimov's time) do not, unless they've written runaway bestsellers. I think this is because there are so darned many writers and subgenres within SF and F nowadays that's it's much harder for any one to be on nearly everyone's "favorites" list.

milkweed
12-30-2014, 05:27 AM
What about H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, two SciFi/Fantasy writers who surely had an impact on modern science fiction???

King Neptune
12-30-2014, 05:53 PM
Not only Wells and Verne should be considered. There were many writers of SF in the '40's, '50's. and '60's who were better than any of those three, but those three were rather prolific and did plenty of publicity for themselves. But Verne made science fiction something substantial, and he should be accorded special respect. Wells wrote one of the best time travel novels yet, and was his first and perhaps his best novel.

Mr Flibble
12-30-2014, 09:34 PM
I Will Fear No Evil has only the excuse that Heinlein literally had brain fever when he wrote it.

That explains a hell of a lot about that book! *shudders in remembrance*


Not only Wells and Verne should be considered.

I'm very partial to Eric Frank Russell myself

Introversion
12-30-2014, 10:02 PM
Instead of arguing whether Heinlein et. al. were "great writers" (which is subjective), I'd say instead that it's inarguable they hugely influenced the field. For that alone, they certainly IMO deserve recognition.

Personally, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Heinlein's "juvie" works: "Have Space Suit - Will Travel", "Tunnel in the Sky" and "Farmer in the Sky" in particular. I read the crap out of those in my pre-teen and early teen years.

Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy was also read-the-crap-out-of material back then.

Clarke's "Rendezvous With Rama" ditto, and is one of the few works from those three that I've re-read as an adult.

Introversion
12-30-2014, 10:05 PM
And since Verne was mentioned, I'd also like to put in a plug for Edgar Rice Burroughs as hugely influential. His works are best read as fantasy these days (and perhaps then as well :)). He was a prodigious writer, creating characters still popular (or at least recognizable) around the world.

Aquarianhelix
12-30-2014, 10:57 PM
Hm... I've voted. Each has a very different emphasis in their science fiction writing. to take them in alphabetical order...

Asimov has the most humorous and adventurous streak in his stories and is probably the most biased towards (but far from) the comic strips

Clarke liked to get his facts right and describe things. In flavour he is probably the most hard science fiction writer of the three.

Heinlein was most interested in the social impact of science, even if his politics tended to lean to the right.

Depending on what mood I'm, I'll veer and haul between the three.

Main novels include:

The Foundation series
The Robot series (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun etc)
Rendezvous with Rama
Childhood's End
The City and the Stars
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Starship Troopers
Stranger in a Strange Land

Amadan
12-30-2014, 11:22 PM
Heinlein was most interested in the social impact of science, even if his politics tended to lean to the right.


I always find it amusing that the guy who wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil and Number of the Beast and worked on Upton Sinclair's gubernatorial campaign is labeled a rightist.

Later in life he leaned libertarian, but he was still pretty far from being a conservative.

Maxx
12-31-2014, 12:26 AM
I
The real problem is their stories were the foundation upon which other authors built better science fiction.

I think that pretty much sums it up. Moreover, I think the perceptions and expectations about what Sci-fi is have changed so much that it is hard to get back to the worldviews upon which they had so much impact. Their works were among the things that induced that changes and that makes it all that much harder to see them as they were originally. So, in the end, they are overrated as writers but underrated as game-changers for the genre.

Dave Williams
12-31-2014, 02:09 AM
One major problem is that there's "early Heinlein" and "late Heinlein", more or less bridged at "Stranger in a Strange Land." I like almost all of his early stuff, including the juveniles, but I range from "take it or leave it" to strong dislike for most of the rest.

For some reason Asimov seems to be best known for his Foundation series, which I considered to be among his weakest work. And Asimov's fiction output dropped off sharply in his later years; very few short stories, and some novels that, frankly, probably only made it into print because, by golly, they were by Asimov, and *someone* would buy them...

I wouldn't put Clarke on a "greatest SF writer" list at all; I'd put Andre Norton or Keith Laumer far higher on any such list. Norton being another with "early" and "late" periods; "Galactic Derelict" was literally the first book I ever read, and I still like most of her early stuff. Then it all turned into mediocre to poor magic/fantasy.

blacbird
12-31-2014, 06:59 AM
I voted Door No. 3. Heinlein, to me, is overrated. I'd put Clarke ahead of Asimov, just a nudge, but both are giants in the field. But Bradbury and Dick outshine all three, IMO.

That's among writers considered relatively "modern". Let's all remember that the Godfather of modern SF is H.G. Wells. He invented the term "scientific romance" for his early works (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, In the Days of the Comet, When the Sleeper Wakes, The Food of the Gods, The First Men in the Moon, Star-Begotten, Men Like Gods, dozens of short stories). That term morphed quickly into "science-fiction", and every subsequent author owes Wells an unpayable debt.

caw

Maxx
12-31-2014, 06:29 PM
I wouldn't put Clarke on a "greatest SF writer" list at all; I'd put Andre Norton or Keith Laumer far higher on any such list. Norton being another with "early" and "late" periods; "Galactic Derelict" was literally the first book I ever read, and I still like most of her early stuff. Then it all turned into mediocre to poor magic/fantasy.

I agree about Andre Norton. What an imagination! I was captivated by books like The Time Traders.

Alessandra Kelley
12-31-2014, 08:42 PM
Not one of them could not write a female character worth a darn.

(That may be unfair about Clarke. All I have read of his is "2001," which like a depressingly huge number of "classic" sci fi books, has no women in it to speak of.)

Mind you, I've read and enjoyed all three authors, particularly when I was a child.

It was only as I matured that I looked at them closer and said Wait a minute ...

And even so, there is much about their writing that I still appreciate.


I always find it amusing that the guy who wrote Stranger in a Strange Land and I Will Fear No Evil and Number of the Beast and worked on Upton Sinclair's gubernatorial campaign is labeled a rightist.

Later in life he leaned libertarian, but he was still pretty far from being a conservative.

Maybe so, but these days he is a poster child and a flag to be waved for right-leaning fandom.

An artist's politics do not always coincide with his or her most rabid fans' politics, after all.

Once!
12-31-2014, 08:57 PM
Um ... not sure I can answer this. Like several other people, none of the options represents my point of view. It seems to offer a binary choice - each author was either vastly overrated or one of the greatest. Awful or awesome. Yes or no.

All three were hugely important and they were also of their time. I'm very glad that they existed and thoroughly enjoyed their books when I was younger. But I'm not rushing out to read every word they ever wrote. And I wouldn't necessarily recommend them to a modern reader. Some of their books have not aged well.

It's a bit like asking whether the Ford Model T was vastly overrated or one of the greatest cars ever made.

BenPanced
12-31-2014, 09:54 PM
In some parts of fandom, suggesting that Heinlein was not all that is fighting talk.
It's been my experience that you canNOT say anything against all three. Ever. At. All. Even if you can back up your argument beyond "well, it's just stoopid, is all". I've noticed that many people in fandom have adopted the "us vs. them" attitude and when they finally discover other fans, they need to huddle together, afraid if they say anything negative somebody will stop publishing sf/f books and making TV shows and movies. I was once badgered because I wouldn't sign a petition to keep the TV series Starman on the air. One woman said she was signing to keep "quality science fiction shows on the air", and I didn't sign because I never watched the show and had no intention. It wasn't something I was interested in. Many people in fandom are so afraid of losing this connection they have, they have to praise anything and everything; even when they blog about how awful something is, it's always wrapped around a backhanded compliment.

Then there are the people who are aghast that I don't care if the battle scenes and the music and the special effects and the make-up and the etc. in Peter Jackson's adaptations of Tolkien's work are totes amazeballs. I don't want to see them. I've tried reading the original source material and it's bored the snot out of me. If I didn't like the book, why would I want to see the movie? Oh. Yeah. That's right. The battle scenes and the music and the special effects and the make-up and the etc. in Peter Jackson's adaptations of Tolkien's work are totes amazeballs.

And don't get me started on Doctor Who. We'll be here all day.

Many in fandom can't understand my reasoning that if I don't like something or I'm not interested, I'm not going to read a particular book. They take it as a personal affront if I have my reasons for not wanting to read a book, especially when it's a highly-regarded classic by one of the above authors. Yes, I've tried reading them. No, I wasn't all that impressed. No, I'm not going to try reading them again. No, really. I'm not. No. I will not. No, I'm not...PLEASE STOP TELLING ME I NEED TO READ SOMETHING ELSE BY THEM. (This happened once with Doctor Who. I mentioned I've tried watching the series at various points in its history and have no desire to ever watch it again, but I'm bombarded with "Well, you just need to watch this episode and this episode and this story arc and this one and this one and this one and then you'll change your mind!") It's a lot of this hivemind attitude that's put me off ever circulating in fandom again.

Amadan
12-31-2014, 11:33 PM
I am amused by the occasional hate-spewing indignation by fanboys in response to negative reviews on Goodreads.

I can enjoy books that are horribly dated, racist, and sexist, if the story is good, but I will point out the horribly dated racism and sexism. This has gotten people very, very upset with me over my reviews of Dr. No, Lucifer's Hammer, and Friday.

It makes me laugh that people actually get upset that you dislike, or even criticize, something they like.

Also, Arthur C. Clarke is boring. And Asimov couldn't write characters. Especially not women, but his characterization in general sucked.

jjdebenedictis
01-01-2015, 12:47 AM
Also, Arthur C. Clarke is boring. **prepares to prison-shank Amadan** T'aint so! Graaaawr!

Ahem. Which is to say, I always found his books fascinating, albeit not action-packed, and he was amazingly good at standing my hair on end. "There is life on Europa. I repeat, there is life on Europa," was one of the most thrilling moments I've ever experienced in a book.

Roxxsmom
01-01-2015, 01:32 AM
I wouldn't put Clarke on a "greatest SF writer" list at all; I'd put Andre Norton or Keith Laumer far higher on any such list. Norton being another with "early" and "late" periods; "Galactic Derelict" was literally the first book I ever read, and I still like most of her early stuff. Then it all turned into mediocre to poor magic/fantasy.

Andre Norton seems to get forgotten a lot, which is sad. She wrote some really cool stuff. A lot of it was fantasy, though, so it makes sense to forget her if one is just looking at SF. Still, she tends to be forgotten when people list influential fantasy writers.

The thing is, my lists of "influential" and "favorite" will be pretty different. While a few influential writers (as in trend setting) might end up on my list of favorites (Ursula K LeGuin is one), most of the fantasy and SF novels I've read and re-read over and over are by writers who perfected (in my opinion) things other people pioneered, or who pioneered smaller, more focused subgenres within SF and F.

I've discovered that most people, when asked to list their favorite SFF writers, will list the people who they think they should list, not the writers they actually enjoy reading most.

Or maybe I'm strange, because I really didn't get into Asimov at all (I read I Robot, and it was all right, aside from being a bit dry and so darned sexist, but the Foundation series just didn't pull me in), and I read the 2000 series by Clark and Childhood's end, but I thought his writing was a bit dry, and as a biologist, I found his interest in externally directed human evolution with an ultimate goal to be anything but diamond hard on a scientific level.

I love SF and F because of the ideas and setting, but they're not enough to pull me into a story. I want to feel the characters. And knowing that someone is a product of his time doesn't make dull, flat female characters and a future where 1950s era gender roles and Victorian morality still hold sway any more intriguing to me (at the very least, if 1950s era gender roles return at some time in the future, and Victorian morality is still a thing, I want there to be some reason why and not to have those things presented as default norms for all of humanity).

I preferred Heinlein's earlier stuff. Couldn't get into most of his later books.

jjdebenedictis
01-01-2015, 02:30 AM
Many in fandom can't understand my reasoning that if I don't like something or I'm not interested, I'm not going to read a particular book. They take it as a personal affront if I have my reasons for not wanting to read a book, especially when it's a highly-regarded classic by one of the above authors. Yes, I've tried reading them. No, I wasn't all that impressed. No, I'm not going to try reading them again. No, really. I'm not. No. I will not. No, I'm not...PLEASE STOP TELLING ME I NEED TO READ SOMETHING ELSE BY THEM. I don't know if that's specific to SFF fans, although we certainly demonstrate that tendency often. I recall a lot of teenagers freaking out at anyone not loving Twilight, too.

Sometimes you love something so hard you cannot fathom a like-minded person not loving it. But yeah, that's your hard-loving blindspot, not their lack of exposure.

Kevin Nelson
01-01-2015, 06:45 PM
Or maybe I'm strange, because I really didn't get into Asimov at all (I read I Robot, and it was all right, aside from being a bit dry and so darned sexist, but the Foundation series just didn't pull me in), and I read the 2000 series by Clark and Childhood's end, but I thought his writing was a bit dry, and as a biologist, I found his interest in externally directed human evolution with an ultimate goal to be anything but diamond hard on a scientific level.

I love SF and F because of the ideas and setting, but they're not enough to pull me into a story. I want to feel the characters. And knowing that someone is a product of his time doesn't make dull, flat female characters and a future where 1950s era gender roles and Victorian morality still hold sway any more intriguing to me (at the very least, if 1950s era gender roles return at some time in the future, and Victorian morality is still a thing, I want there to be some reason why and not to have those things presented as default norms for all of humanity).

It's true that a lot of Asimov's settings featured pretty old-fashioned values, but I don't see how he ever presented them as the default norm for all humanity. In his Robot novels, there was a clear contrast between the traditional gender dynamics on Earth and the gender equality on the Spacer planets. I always took that as a reflection of Earth's relative poverty--the Spacer planets were far more technologically advanced.

If an author portrays a society with norms you approve of, do you also want a reason why those norms prevail? Or do you only want a reason for norms you disapprove of?

Dave Williams
01-01-2015, 07:58 PM
I've discovered that most people, when asked to list their favorite SFF writers, will list the people who they think they should list, not the writers they actually enjoy reading most.

That's actually a noted problem with interviews and questionnaires; the Kinsey and Masters human behavior studies ran into that. Not really their fault; the [there's a term for that, like "confirmation bias", but I can't remember what the heck it is at the moment] effect wasn't widely recognized until decades later. As a result, their thoroughly and expensively collected test data moved from a basic part of anthropology to a curiosity in Statistics courses.

jjdebenedictis
01-01-2015, 10:10 PM
If an author portrays a society with norms you approve of, do you also want a reason why those norms prevail? Or do you only want a reason for norms you disapprove of?I think, in futuristic science fiction, if things are presented as being just like they are now, that's either a conscious choice for expediency, or a conscious choice to help argue a theme, or it's laziness because the author didn't examine their mindset at all.

An author doesn't need to provide a reason for their choices, but if they don't, then it's valid for readers to judge them to have not thought about it at all. And it's not like that's an attack on the author which his/her fans must vociferously oppose; it's an opinion, and a reasonable one.

These guys were white men writing in a society with steel-girded protection for the privileges of white men. Why wouldn't we now judge them to have been a bit clueless about how society might evolve? It would have been hard for them not to be; they were pampered human beings.

shakeysix
01-01-2015, 10:18 PM
This is, of course, very subjective, but subjective is what you are asking for, right? I don't have much patience with the genre anymore but I read it rabidly as a kid and then sporadically into my thirties--veering more into magical realism. Since I lived the times and am a female I thought my take might be appreciated.

Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury replace Heinlein and Asimov in my personal list. For me, it is the characters that catch my interest and make the book worth reading. An author capable of creating a character that stays fresh in my 60+ year old mind tops my list every time. Granted, Podkayne caught me when I was very young but by my late teen years Lazarus Long and company had turned as mushy and disagreeable as the vegetable soup served up in the school cafeteria.

I was pretty much hippified by the seventies and Heinlein's delightfully- spoken, counter culture characters had morphed into the tedious old white males who lectured me and my generation from every available screen. I can never forgive him for the lectures--or Al Capp for that matter.

I had friends who were big Asimov fans but Asimov's science fiction never held my attention. I was addicted to his history--which, looking back is probably fairly fictional. In my opinion the History of the Dark Ages was the best but that judgment is purely subjective. According to family legend our family name is a corruption of the name of two Frankish kings, so of course reading about Merovingian history was fascinating--for me. Asimov doesn't make my Science Fiction list but he is on another list of mine -right under Men Microscopes and Living Things, Johnny Tremain, Gods, Graves and Scholars

Clarke was okay. Moonwatcher burrowed into my identity. I made the mistake of watching 2001 at the local Drive In with a carload of friends, a kind of bong on wheels. When the Space Baby floated across the screen I screamed, we all screamed and then burst into hysterical laughter. Funny but hardly ponderous. Still, he is important and should be somewhere in the top ten.


Andre Norton should be in the top three. Ross Murdock? Even now, with white hair and Social Security on the way, he is me. I am he. Whenever I am walking a lonely cow pasture or salt marsh, camera in hand, I keep an eye out for a smooth metallic globe about to zoom into another time, another world.

Galactic Derelict and Time Traders were family events. My siblings and I read together. Great Bend, Kansas did not offer much recreation once the temps soared into triple digits. We read all morning--each taking one of three big maple trees in the back yard. After lunch we headed to the municipal pool on bikes. Shortly after supper and chores we took our books to the basement. We almost always read different books--my brother still drives me crazy with Farley quotes-- but Norton was one author we read together. We breathed Norton for a couple of summers, still make joking references.

Norton's outsider/heroes called to me, especially, maybe because I was only a little girl in tedious, dusty small town Kansas. The only way I could find adventure was meeting up with Gordon Ashe or Andre Norton and tunneling into time.

I'll never forget the first time I realized that Andre Norton was a woman. And a librarian! It was a revelation. She knew the gender difficulties first hand so masqueraded as a man because no boy would ever read a book by a woman. Of course I could be Ross or Travis iffen any I wanted to be!

Bradbury also wrote about characters trapped in small dusty towns. Some, like Doug Spaulding escaped tedium by twisting reality. Others were caught up in dark carnivals, time machines, gypsy fortune tellers. Even the adults could not be certain that reality was solid like the railroaders encountering knights errant. Even the Martians could not trust reality.

Years ago I taught literature to a class of students who had proven themselves allergic to all literature; country kids who worked a good two hours on alfalfa farms and cattle ranches before showering and heading off to school. They hated Stephen King and Heinlein (even the sexy stuff), don't even think about the Hobbit. Bradbury held them though, Douglas and his tennis shoes and the old man time machine. One kid even bought some of his Grandfather's Dandelion Wine to class in a jar. We all agreed that the book was better--s6

--s6

Brightdreamer
01-01-2015, 10:28 PM
Clarke was okay. Moonwatcher burrowed into my identity. I made the mistake of watching 2001 at the local Drive In with a carload of friends, a kind of bong on wheels. When the Space Baby floated across the screen I screamed, we all screamed and then burst into hysterical laughter. Funny but hardly ponderous.

Actually, 2001 was my first experience with a book being better than the movie. We read it, and watched it, in a sci-fi lit class in high school. The movie made little sense without the book's explanations, IIRC... or maybe there are some things that just work better in words than on the screen. Reading, you can imagine/become the "star baby" with the MC; watching it is just bizarre.

Amadan
01-01-2015, 10:34 PM
These guys were white men writing in a society with steel-girded protection for the privileges of white men. Why wouldn't we now judge them to have been a bit clueless about how society might evolve? It would have been hard for them not to be; they were pampered human beings.


Oddly, I had the same sensation reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War that I did reading Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles - for all that he's supposed to be a staunch social justice advocate aware of his "privilege," Scalzi did the same damn thing Bradbury and his contemps did, writing about a far future that looked like the author's small-town America.

In this respect, ironically, I think Heinlein - whom Scalzi was more directly trying to imitate - tended to do better. Heinlein had his (big, gaping) flaws, sure, but his future societies were at least recognizably futuristic. Just like his women, while clearly male fantasies, actually got to kick ass and do things, unlike Clarke's and Asimov's.

Craig McNeil
01-01-2015, 11:05 PM
I'm a big fan of Asimov. While his work hasn't aged well in terms of technological references (atomic weapons always makes me smile!) the ideas, the characters and his sheer imagination resounds with me. I've never been able to put my finger on it but there's something about the way he writes that I find engaging.

I digress though. All three are (IMHO) giants of science fiction on the shoulders of whom all modern science fiction writers stand. They spearheaded the acceptance of science fiction by the general public and expanded the reader base.

jjdebenedictis
01-01-2015, 11:05 PM
Actually, 2001 was my first experience with a book being better than the movie. We read it, and watched it, in a sci-fi lit class in high school. The movie made little sense without the book's explanations, IIRC... or maybe there are some things that just work better in words than on the screen. Reading, you can imagine/become the "star baby" with the MC; watching it is just bizarre.Yeah, this. 2001 is a book that shouldn't have the movie held against it. The movie was brilliant in its way, but it makes no flippin' sense at all if you haven't read the book. Bone? Spaceship? Whut?

Kevin Nelson
01-02-2015, 08:46 PM
I think, in futuristic science fiction, if things are presented as being just like they are now, that's either a conscious choice for expediency, or a conscious choice to help argue a theme, or it's laziness because the author didn't examine their mindset at all.

Agreed. On the other hand...any human society has many aspects to it. You might portray a future society as similar to present-day society in some ways, but very different in other ways. A lot of science fiction has actually done that. So if there's some particular aspect of society an author fails to examine, it's more a matter of the author having a blind spot rather than general laziness.

I think Asimov did have a major blind spot about gender in his early work, but he eventually put some more thought into the subject. In The Robots of Dawn and Robots and Empire, he drew some pretty emphatic contrasts between the gender equality on the Spacer planets and the inequality on Earth. I'm not saying his books were ever outstanding treatments of gender issues--I'm just saying he did eventually realize this aspect of society might evolve.



An author doesn't need to provide a reason for their choices, but if they don't, then it's valid for readers to judge them to have not thought about it at all. And it's not like that's an attack on the author which his/her fans must vociferously oppose; it's an opinion, and a reasonable one.

It sounded to me like the original request for a "reason" was a request for an in-story reason about why the future society has the values it does. That's different from an authorial justification. And I'm not sure if authors should usually try to provide that sort of in-story reason. Even when talking about actual present-day societies, it's hard to say exactly why they have the values they do.



These guys were white men writing in a society with steel-girded protection for the privileges of white men. Why wouldn't we now judge them to have been a bit clueless about how society might evolve? It would have been hard for them not to be; they were pampered human beings.

They were definitely clueless in some ways, and it's fair to criticize them for it. On the other hand yet again...who isn't clueless in some ways? Unless you actually are Hari Seldon, figuring out how society may evolve in the future is a very difficult task! I suspect that in the year 2085, the vast majority of contemporary science fiction will seem just as dated as Asimov's early work does now.

RikWriter
01-02-2015, 10:01 PM
Some Heinlein is the best SF I've ever read. Other Heinlein is not great. I got into SF because of Heinlein's juveniles---our local library had a good stock of them and I read them all dozens of times as a kid, particularly Have Space Suit--Will Travel. Starship Troopers is a great book, along with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Methusaleh's Children and many others.
But once he got older and started getting very squirrely about sex, he lost me.
Clarke I liked but never loved. He had a great imagination and well realized futures but I never got into his characters.
Asimov...I liked his worlds, but his characterization always fell flat with me.

Smiling Ted
01-03-2015, 07:48 AM
What bothers me about this poll is that it's reductivist, focusing on "The Big Three" while ignoring dozens of other early and mid-century F/SF authors whose contributions are equally valuable: Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, Fred Pohl, CM Kornbluth, Eric Frank Russell, A.E. Van Vogt, Lester Del Rey, Jack Williamson, Damon Knight, Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, Stanley Weinbaum, and the list goes on...

Endlessly hashing and re-hashing Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov has become a little stale.

shakeysix
01-03-2015, 07:47 PM
Simak anyone? --s6

King Neptune
01-03-2015, 08:13 PM
Simak anyone? --s6

better than Heinlein anyway.

Alessandra Kelley
01-03-2015, 08:19 PM
Simak anyone? --s6

I ran into "The Werewolf Principle" at a young age and was hooked. I liked his small-town melancholy, not unlike Ray Bradbury's.

Robert Dawson
01-04-2015, 12:09 AM
As far as the privilege thing: Yes, all three could be fairly insensitive, unimaginative, or downright ignorant at times. But I note, just in passing:


Asimov was Jewish at a time when antisemitism was a much bigger thing in North America than it is today, and overt pro-Fascist sympathies were not uncommon.

Clarke was - it would seem - gay, at a time when acting on this was a criminal offence (he was born only about five years after Alan Turing.)

Even Heinlein was disabled by TB to the extent that his chosen naval career was cut short. I realize, as I type this, that his chagrin at being invalided out may explain why Starship Troopers features the only armed forces in the real or imagined history of the human race that turned down nobody on the grounds of disability.

Amadan
01-04-2015, 01:00 AM
My "privilege" comment was meant wryly - I am not actually a fan of dismissing works just because they happen to be by dead white men.

Your examples, though, simply point to the observable tendency of writers to be more easily able to empathize with people like themselves than with people not like themselves.

Roxxsmom
01-04-2015, 04:29 AM
If an author portrays a society with norms you approve of, do you also want a reason why those norms prevail? Or do you only want a reason for norms you disapprove of?

I want there to be a reason for how a futuristic society is, regardless. This doesn't mean that the characters have to go around thinking about it all the time, but projecting our current values into the future without examining why things have developed that way is meh to me.

But it's also probably true that I will hold a narrative that shits on me and people like me, that has an underlying assumption that we're less competent, reasonable, interesting, or capable as human beings, to a higher level of scrutiny than I will a narrative that assumes I and people like me are real human beings who can do things that matter in the world.

I've been told this is a weakness, but mostly by people who rarely have to read books where their group is portrayed as the inferior or uninteresting one.

Note that it's possible to portray a society that shits on some people without the underlying assumption that it's doing so because those people really don't matter or that they really deserve to be shit on, or that shitting on that particular group is just the baseline way normal humans behave.

My problem with a lot of stories written by people who were at the top of the food chain 50 or more years ago is that people who aren't like them are often invisible and that the status quo that favors them is often presented as just the way things are and should be. There's only so far I can go with being forgiving because an author was a product of his (or her) time, and I usually need time to clear my palate between reads.

Time will tell if we're committing the same sins as writers today, I suppose.

Kevin Nelson
01-04-2015, 11:39 AM
I want there to be a reason for how a futuristic society is, regardless. This doesn't mean that the characters have to go around thinking about it all the time, but projecting our current values into the future without examining why things have developed that way is meh to me.

People today have all sorts of different values, so it's not clear what "our current values" might mean.

Suppose an author describes a society in the year 2400 in which your own personal values prevail. Everyone is treated equally. There's no discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Violence is universally abhorred. What sort of explanation could be given about how those values came to be adopted? The author could say something like "enlightenment spread throughout the population," but that's not really an explanation.

Conversely, suppose an author describes a future society with values that you totally oppose. Inequality is exalted. Discrimination, oppression, and outright slavery are the order of the day. It seems to me that the author could portray all of those things as horrifying without needing to explain how they came to be.

Personally, I would rather have no explanation at all than a simplistic explanation based on simplistic sociology.



But it's also probably true that I will hold a narrative that shits on me and people like me, that has an underlying assumption that we're less competent, reasonable, interesting, or capable as human beings, to a higher level of scrutiny than I will a narrative that assumes I and people like me are real human beings who can do things that matter in the world.

I've been told this is a weakness, but mostly by people who rarely have to read books where their group is portrayed as the inferior or uninteresting one.

I am by no means arguing that's a weakness, and I agree in particular that Asimov's early works deserve scrutiny. As a teenager, he wrote a letter to Astounding that was published before any of his stories were, and the letter is appallingly sexist. He pretty much said he didn't want any female characters in science fiction, period. The presumption was that female characters could only serve as love interests, and he didn't want science fiction to get mixed up with romance. That was pretty extreme even for 1937. He had to have known there were eminent female scientists like Marie Sklodowska Curie and Emmy Noether, who succeeded in doing top-notch work in spite of serious discrimination against them. So it's eminently reasonable to ask why that knowledge failed to affect his view of science fiction.



My problem with a lot of stories written by people who were at the top of the food chain 50 or more years ago is that people who aren't like them are often invisible and that the status quo that favors them is often presented as just the way things are and should be. There's only so far I can go with being forgiving because an author was a product of his (or her) time, and I usually need time to clear my palate between reads.

I know you're not talking about Asimov specifically here, but I have to wonder if you regard him as one of the authors at the top of the food chain. I am not asking whether he had male privilege, or white privilege--he clearly did, if "privilege" is defined in relative terms. He was a male Jewish working-class immigrant, and he did enjoy significant advantages as compared to female Jewish working-class immigrants, or as compared to people of color with a similar class background. "Top of the food chain," though, seems to refer to absolute status, and I find it more than a little hard to picture the young Asimov as having that sort of status.

Do you really need to be forgiving to appreciate a book with values that you object to? It seems to me that you could choose to look past the objectionable values while at the same time remaining aware of them. And that doesn't necessarily involve forgiving anything. Anyway, if Asimov personally is to be forgiven, it should be because his views did evolve over time.



Time will tell if we're committing the same sins as writers today, I suppose.

The very same sins, maybe not. Sins of the same general sort, almost certainly yes. Who isn't a product of their time?

Amadan
01-04-2015, 08:05 PM
People today have all sorts of different values, so it's not clear what "our current values" might mean.

Suppose an author describes a society in the year 2400 in which your own personal values prevail. Everyone is treated equally. There's no discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Violence is universally abhorred. What sort of explanation could be given about how those values came to be adopted? The author could say something like "enlightenment spread throughout the population," but that's not really an explanation.

Conversely, suppose an author describes a future society with values that you totally oppose. Inequality is exalted. Discrimination, oppression, and outright slavery are the order of the day. It seems to me that the author could portray all of those things as horrifying without needing to explain how they came to be.

Personally, I would rather have no explanation at all than a simplistic explanation based on simplistic sociology.



If I read a story set in 2400 in which there is no mention of racial or sexual prejudice and violence is abhorred, no, I wouldn't necessarily require an explanation. It's not a huge stretch to think that such things could happen in a few centuries. Yes, of course there would have to be a reason for them, just like our evolution to the present day where women and non-white people have (more or less) equal rights didn't just "happen," and would be astonishing to someone from 1600, but is it so far-fetched you'd need more explanation for that than for, say, the space colonies and the fusion reactors and the artificial intelligence or whatever else exists in the world of 2400?

Now if the society is a problem-free utopia where everyone is happy, that would stretch my suspension of disbelief more.

Here's an example of what Roxx might be talking about: when I read Asimov's The End of Eternity, which is a time travel novel about an advanced civilization that exists in thousands of different alternate timelines, I noticed that in all of these thousands of worlds based on far-future versions of Earth, not one had women doing anything other than secretarial work.

I am not particularly sensitive to these things, but it did make me say, "Seriously, dude?" It was a little unbelievable to me that Asimov, as brilliant and imaginative as he was, could not even imagine women being anything other than secretaries. It broke my suspension of disbelief, because besides the plot revolving around two nerds being willing to destroy civilization for a chance to get laid with the one female character in the story, even in Asimov's day, there were a few female scientists and engineers. And it's not like no one else in the 50s ever wrote about women doing stuff, so it wasn't an inconceivable notion, especially in SF.

My reaction to The End of Eternity (which was otherwise a good time travel yarn) was not because I was offended or upset that women didn't have equal representation - it was just an epic failure to extrapolate a believable future. One had to think Asimov was either incredibly blinkered, or made a deliberate choice - "No chicks in my manly science playhouse!"

kuwisdelu
01-04-2015, 11:30 PM
Do you really need to be forgiving to appreciate a book with values that you object to? It seems to me that you could choose to look past the objectionable values while at the same time remaining aware of them. And that doesn't necessarily involve forgiving anything. Anyway, if Asimov personally is to be forgiven, it should be because his views did evolve over time.

I think my time is better spent reading books that I don't have to hold my nose to "appreciate".

Roxxsmom
01-05-2015, 01:47 AM
People today have all sorts of different values, so it's not clear what "our current values" might mean.

This is absolutely true, and it's always been true. And it's something people who write stories set in the past (or for that matter, some people writing in the past) often forget/forgot.

No group or time period or culture or gender is a hive mind.



I know you're not talking about Asimov specifically here, but I have to wonder if you regard him as one of the authors at the top of the food chain. I am not asking whether he had male privilege, or white privilege--he clearly did, if "privilege" is defined in relative terms. He was a male Jewish working-class immigrant, and he did enjoy significant advantages as compared to female Jewish working-class immigrants, or as

And Arthur C Clark was gay, I believe, in a time when it was very dangerous to be open (and not just professionally). But the point is, the higher status one does have in one regard can make someone blind to the experiences of others in that same regard, even if one lacks status in other ways. I've met homophobic women and sexist gay men, for instance. Lack of one kind of privilege can make one more empathetic with people who lack privileges you personally have, but it doesn't always.

People are mixed bags. I get that. And yes, we're all products of our time. I said future people may well judge us too, and some of them will likely not enjoy things about our writing as a consequence (assuming we write something that sells well enough in our own times to even stay in print).


Suppose an author describes a society in the year 2400 in which your own personal values prevail. Everyone is treated equally. There's no discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Violence is universally abhorred. What sort of explanation could be given about how those values came to be adopted?

I haven't given it much thought, because I doubt I'd ever write a book set in a utopia.

However, if I write a world set in the future, I'd likely create different prejudices or issues, or perhaps take something that's relatively rare now and project it into a more widespread norm as a sort of "what if?" idea.

I get the feeling that if I were to give a more specific, one or two sentence example of how I might personally write a society that has eliminated, say, our style of sexism or racism or whatever, then you'll disagree with it and find reasons why it's implausible or twisted by the times we live in.

And that's fine, because readers will find nits to pick with the world building in almost any SF or F book and will disagree about what effects of various social innovations or future/alternative historical events might be. And I can guarantee that any social system I write will reveal unanticipated implications to me as I go, because that's how I roll as a writer. But I don't think that's really the point of this thread.

The thing is, while I respect the contribution that Asimov, Heinlein and Clark made to SF, I don't list their work among my own favorite reads (I enjoyed Heinlein's juveniles back when I was younger, but didn't care much for his later, more adult stuff). There are many reasons for this, and the product of their time thing is just one of them. But even if you pick apart ever feeling I have about their stories (and every other story that fails to inspire me with their world building, characterization, or portrayal of women), that won't change how I feel.

I have a very bad habit of trying to explain my feelings. I think it gives the impression that they can be reasoned away, as if the person doing the reasoning can prove that if I don't have a leg to stand on, my feelings will change. But in the end, I like what I like.

Kevin Nelson
01-09-2015, 09:12 AM
And Arthur C Clark was gay, I believe, in a time when it was very dangerous to be open (and not just professionally). But the point is, the higher status one does have in one regard can make someone blind to the experiences of others in that same regard, even if one lacks status in other ways. I've met homophobic women and sexist gay men, for instance. Lack of one kind of privilege can make one more empathetic with people who lack privileges you personally have, but it doesn't always.

I can agree with all of that. I'd also add, though, that blindness can have sources other than privilege. Two people with the same privileges can still have quite different experiences in some ways, and one person can be quite blind to what the other has experienced. I almost wonder whether blindness is the default state, and you always have to make a special effort to see other people's perspectives.



I get the feeling that if I were to give a more specific, one or two sentence example of how I might personally write a society that has eliminated, say, our style of sexism or racism or whatever, then you'll disagree with it and find reasons why it's implausible or twisted by the times we live in.

Suppose racism is completely eliminated over the next 400 years. I think it would be hard for anyone to give a convincing one-sentence explanation for that sort of (extremely welcome) development. Just as it's hard for anyone to give a quick explanation for why industrialization occurred, or for why the Roman Empire fell.



The thing is, while I respect the contribution that Asimov, Heinlein and Clark made to SF, I don't list their work among my own favorite reads (I enjoyed Heinlein's juveniles back when I was younger, but didn't care much for his later, more adult stuff). There are many reasons for this, and the product of their time thing is just one of them. But even if you pick apart ever feeling I have about their stories (and every other story that fails to inspire me with their world building, characterization, or portrayal of women), that won't change how I feel.

I have a very bad habit of trying to explain my feelings. I think it gives the impression that they can be reasoned away, as if the person doing the reasoning can prove that if I don't have a leg to stand on, my feelings will change. But in the end, I like what I like.

I'm not especially interested in changing anyone's feelings--I am firmly in the camp that says literary merit is subjective. But if anyone does care to give reasons for their feelings, I think it can be productive to discuss those reasons regardless of whether it ultimately changes what anyone likes. I think I understand your perspective a little better now, even though it's not precisely the same as my own.

Twick
01-10-2015, 02:04 AM
I think if you're looking for absolute political correctness, you'll be limited to reading only things that came out this year, and not much of that.

However, even when making allowances for the mores of times past, there are some authors who may be sexist, racist, or whatever in the sense that they don't question their society's assumptions. Those I can deal with, even sympathize with a bit. We may all find our own assumptions questioned by later generations, and our own enlightenment is likely due to exposure to ideas that these writers did not get.

Then there are authors who have clearly spent a long time thinking about why certain groups are superior, and are prepared to argue the point to any readers who might disagree. Those writers are much more unpleasant to read.

Jamesaritchie
01-10-2015, 03:24 AM
Does it really matter what anyone says about these writers? All three made a gigantic influence on SF, and nothing can change this. Asimov was the worst writer of the three, but his imagination more than made up for it. Clarke was, without doubt, a gfreat writer, but no writer had a greater influence than Heinlein, and he's still worshiped by a huge number of writers and readers today. Heinlein's juvenile novels are unsurpassed. No one else came anywhere close to writing juveniles with the same influence he did.

Those who don't like him most often don't like his politics, and that's a stupid way to judge any writer. Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, but this is what Robinson has to say about Heinlein, and he's dead on right. http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/works/articles/rahrahrah.html

Xelebes
01-11-2015, 12:02 AM
I loathe Heinlein's work. Can't get into his books and do not care for the concepts he wanted to discuss in them. But that's me.

Asimov is something I read when I was young and I enjoyed it for what it was.

Clarke - still have to read some Clarke. Don't know why I haven't. Maybe because it was a bit scant in the libraries and bookstore? I like the film adaptations of his work.

Wells - fun.
Verne - fun.
Crichton - fun. Okay yes, a bit late with that but come on, but we're talking about dead authors, right?

TMA-1
01-12-2015, 01:13 PM
I recognise all three are important in the history of SF, but the one that I really got hooked on out of those three was Clarke. Sure he's not super with characters, but he had some amazing ideas and concepts, and he knew his science. And that makes his stories very enjoyable indeed!

Twick
01-12-2015, 07:44 PM
I'm not sure you can totally divorce a writer's craft from his or her politics, if he or she makes them part of that craft.

Personally, I'm not a PC purist. I can make allowances for people of different generations, different cultures. I have to recognize that when it comes to world-view, as Rocket says, "The only thing like me is me!"

But like most readers, I have a line. Cross that line - say, you break into a charming detective story with a half-page of ranting about the inherent evil of a particular race (I'm looking at you, G.K. Chesterton) - and I'm out the door. I know that each reader has a different line, some finer, some coarser, but that's mine.

So, if writers want to incorporate their political views, they will be judged. It's quite possible to be skilled at plot, dialogue, description, and yet be a revolting human being. The first does not excuse the last, any more than being a person of great enlightenment automatically gives the gift of writing well.

Dave.C.Robinson
01-13-2015, 05:52 PM
I've read a lot of books by all of them, and my own personal preference would be Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov. While it's easy to say that later writers are better, I don't know that that's always the case, especially with Heinlein. Part of the problem with making that sort of judgment is that as society changes, so does its conception of good writing.

Asimov had some great ideas, and his writing was always clear. It's hard to imagine anyone being confused by Asimov.

I like Clarke, particularly at shorter lengths. For my money, his best novel is A Fall of Moondust. I don't know how many times I've read that.

As a youth and young adult, I found Heinlein to be almost compulsively readable. For all his flaws he was a natural storyteller in a genre that didn't have a lot of them in the early days. I also find, like Spider, that much of the criticism misses the mark. It's not to say that he was perfect, but that many of the flaws people have focused on weren't actually his.

It's impossible to underestimate the importance of his influence on the field; he was one of the first major writers to really write about what it would mean to live in the future. His future wasn't just a backdrop for people to have star-spanning adventures, but somewhere with room for human stories. Heinlein wrote about families dealing with culture shock arising from having to move for a job, and about a pilot dealing with trauma. He created a future that normal people with normal lives inhabited.

For other writers, you could consider not only Stanley G. Weinbaum, but also John W. Campbell (writing as Don A. Stuart). They also humanized the field, and did so before the other three hit their stride. Then there's E.E. "Doc" Smith. Sure he was pulpy and pretty much defined purple prose (I'd even say his was coruscating), but he was also the inventor of the starship. I haven't even mentioned Eric Frank Russell, Clifford Simak, or a host of others.

Dave Williams
01-16-2015, 07:12 PM
E.E. "Doc" Smith. Sure he was pulpy and pretty much defined purple prose (I'd even say his was coruscating),

Smith would *never* have been able to match the incomparable Sybly White!

(I just got 24,000 hits on "Qadgop the Mercotan"...)

Dave.C.Robinson
01-16-2015, 07:17 PM
Smith would *never* have been able to match the incomparable Sybly White!

(I just got 24,000 hits on "Qadgop the Mercotan"...)

No one can or will ever match the incomparable Sybly White - though to be fair, Qadgop the Mercotan is justly famed as one of his best... ignore the rumors that it may have been the work of a prodigiously talented ghostwriter.

Reziac
01-16-2015, 10:36 PM
I'm not sure you can totally divorce a writer's craft from his or her politics, if he or she makes them part of that craft.

This is why I find Iain Banks too annoying to read. One book and out. Everyone who doesn't subscribe to his politics is evidently regarded as subhuman.

As to Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, back in my sordid youth I sucked up everything they wrote (including Asimov's juveniles and nonfiction). But after I started writing I suddenly found them unreadable, mainly because the editor in my head won't shut up. But without them I would not have that solid foundation in the genre, the feel for SF in all its vastness, the history.

Rufus Coppertop
01-17-2015, 09:06 AM
I've read some of all three and yeah, they contributed hugely to the genre. With Asimov though, while I did enjoy his stuff in my teens, I find him absolutely unreadable now.

milkweed
01-18-2015, 08:35 AM
This is why I find Iain Banks too annoying to read. One book and out. Everyone who doesn't subscribe to his politics is evidently regarded as subhuman.

As to Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke, back in my sordid youth I sucked up everything they wrote (including Asimov's juveniles and nonfiction). But after I started writing I suddenly found them unreadable, mainly because the editor in my head won't shut up. But without them I would not have that solid foundation in the genre, the feel for SF in all its vastness, the history.

Thank you! The editor in my head doesn't know squat about grammar, punctuation, etc., and is dyslexic and I suspect drunk at times, but THIS^^^ when I went back to reread Heinlein's the Moon is a Harsh Mistress I was like gahhhhhhhhh set me on fire now!

Needless to say I'm now using that book as a wedge to prop up a broken leg on a dresser.

Dave Williams
01-19-2015, 06:06 PM
That's a good reason why you want to think twice before you right a book in dialect.

Manny's pseudo-Aussie first person account, coupled with more infodumps than really needed (mostly also in dialect), drove me nuts.

Dave Williams
01-19-2015, 06:33 PM
Clarke... not to slight him, but he just doesn't have the output or quality to be a star.

Were Heinlein and Asimov the greatest SF authors of their era... probably not. But they got their stuff out on the shelves where it would sell, and they sold boxcars of it. And because it sold, it influenced what publishers bought from other authors.

Reziac
01-19-2015, 08:10 PM
Clarke... not to slight him, but he just doesn't have the output or quality to be a star.

17 novels and about a dozen short story collections.

But I think he's usually pegged as one of the "Big Three" because his better-known works were more overtly influential than were Asimov's or Heinlein's. After all, whose work was first made into a film??

Alessandra Kelley
01-19-2015, 09:10 PM
17 novels and about a dozen short story collections.

But I think he's usually pegged as one of the "Big Three" because his better-known works were more overtly influential than were Asimov's or Heinlein's. After all, whose work was first made into a film??

Heinlein. "Destination Moon." 1950.

Reziac
01-19-2015, 09:38 PM
Heinlein. "Destination Moon." 1950.

I should have said, a film that achieved general notice and influence.

Alessandra Kelley
01-19-2015, 11:44 PM
I should have said, a film that achieved general notice and influence.

Oh, well, for that you're spot on.