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Old 01-26-2020, 02:59 PM   #1
Greg Anos
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Old Masters of Science Fiction

This is a branch thread off of the thread "Books You Finally Got Around To Reading But Wish You Hadn't"

It's for discussing the old masters of Science Fiction, their works, reading recommendations, and their backgrounds.

Feel free to chime in. . .
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Old 01-26-2020, 03:03 PM   #2
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Most of Heinlein's stages, were really the stages of editors he worked with.

He started out with the Campbell years. Much of the "Future History" (But not all!) were Campbell era works (or expansion of those works). They have a particular "tone" to them.

The next big block was his juveniles. Some excellent, some very good, some so-so. I would recommend The Star Beast or Citizen Of the Galaxy.

At the same time as the juveniles, he wrote for the "slick" magazines. Most of The Green Hills Of Earth was short stories written for the 'Slicks" (Saturday Evening Post, ect.). They have their own "tone", which was what was necessary to get them to sell to that market.

He wrote 3 adult novels in the Juvenile period, The Puppet Masters, Double Star, and The Door Into Summer, which were for still different editors, some of which were heavily edited.

Then there was the third period, post Starship Troopers, where he wrote what he wanted, and then tried to find a market for the results. His name was big enough to do that, by that time. Some great some not-so-great.

The final period was his period, post brain surgery (carotid artery bypass). Frankly, I didn't like them.

Pick the period you like, and avoid the rest.
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Old 01-26-2020, 03:04 PM   #3
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I think this thread should be moved to Reading Recommendations, but otherwise, great idea for a thread.

My favorite of the old masters is definitely Arthur C. Clark. His books can be cold, or at least cool, but man, the concepts are mind-boggling.

I'm also a fan of Asimov, though I far prefer his robot books and stories to what I've read of Foundation. I think he made a mistake trying to tye all his various books together into one universe. Just because Heinlein did it, doesn't mean everyone should.

Speaking of Heinlein, I've never quite warmed up to him. Granted, I've only read a smattering of his work. But it just didn't seem to click with me.
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Old 01-26-2020, 03:57 PM   #4
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The big thing to remember about the time period we are talking about is that writers made their money on magazine sales and any book sales was pure gravy. It wasn't uncommon at all to see books produced that were collection of short stories or expanded novellas. One sees that with Heinlien, Asimov, Clarke, Zelazny and Moorcock just to name a few authors we have talked about in recent threads.

To comment on the original post of this thread, yes, stories were very much influenced by editors at the time. They were the guys buys the stories so if you wanted to sell, you adjusted to the editor. One sometimes sees collections of short stories based on the magazine or editor/imprint that bought them. A bit like musicians and labels.

I read a lot of Asimov in the library since he was pretty popular with librarians. The vast majority of his books are not available as ebooks. I've got the Foundation Trilogy and the main robot books. I would love to get his Black Widowers series as eBooks (I have one in hardback, note the Black Widower book that showed up in the Kindle store a couple of months ago is likely a pirated version. $2.99 for a long dead author and no publisher listed is a pretty darn good tell tale).
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Old 01-26-2020, 04:21 PM   #5
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Heinlein is an old master whom I have a lot of ebooks, mostly because Baen bought the publishing rights to most of his backlist and made them available. I've got 27 of his books, but that include a number of short stories books.

One of the more interesting is the version of Podkayne of Mars that I have. It includes both the original published ending and the ending that Heinlein originally wrote, but the editor rejected.

While Stranger in a Strange Land was one of his most awarded books (a favorite of the 60's generation and where the word grok was coined), I never really cared all that much for it. I've got it in paperback and read it, but never bothered to pick it up as an eBook. My favorite from that time period was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It's just an odd book that I read at just the right age to appreciate.

I liked Glory Road as well. Definitely not a juvie, but I loved the Cyrino reference.

Starship Troopers was a very influential book. Powered suits, bug hunt and a lot of other stuff came from this book.
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Old 01-26-2020, 04:53 PM   #6
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An interesting topic. At some point in my early adulthood I transitioned from science fiction to fantasy. Years later I theorized that it was because as I got older I was more knowledgeable about technology and was therefore less impressed by the ideas they were exploring. And then years after that I've come to the conclusion that it was due to wanting stories that were character centric rather than idea or plot centric. That's probably also why I read almost exclusively science fiction short stories rather than novels; you often don't need a whole novel to explore an idea, and then short stories tend to be weak on character development which is also probably why I transitioned to fantasy.

This topic makes me wonder what science fiction books I've read that had good character development and made me care about the character(s). At the moment all I can think of is Dune, by Frank Herbert; I should try rereading that. I remember really loving Zelazny's Jack of Shadows and I tried re-reading it recently but found it weak on making me care about the character. Likewise with World of Tiers by Farmer.
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Old 01-26-2020, 06:10 PM   #7
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The limit of character driven S/F is - do you like the character(s)?

If you don't, then you miss everything else the author was saying.

Really good S/F is multi layered. Character development is only one layer.

A Literary Fiction reading friend, had to read Dune. His comment after was that it was "just an adventure story" and not worth his time. When I pointed out some of the other layers of the novel, such as a study of ecology, or predestination vs. free will, OPEC power politics, among others, all I got was. "gee, I didn't notice that".

He only got out of it the surface story.
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Old 01-26-2020, 06:17 PM   #8
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One of the joys of the old S/F is the "when the world was young" sense of the times they were written in.

Let me give an example from Heinlein.

One of the Juveniles is Time For The Stars. A pair of twins acting as telepathic communications for a sub-light exploration of nearer stars, looking for habitual worlds. A valid premise in 1956. Today. its a joke! Within 50 years, if we bother, we will have mapped all the nearer stars' planets from the comfort of our own solar system. No need for exploration ships into the "unknown".

Who'd have thunk that in the mid 1950's?

Now obsolete, but still entertaining.

Today, there are fewer and fewer "reaches" for the imagination. We've already looked at so many former ones.

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Old 01-26-2020, 11:15 PM   #9
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Re: Time for the Stars ---
Although he is not an "Old" master writer from the '50's and 60's, Spider Robinson wrote Variable Star, which was based on an incomplete outline from Heinlein's papers, which was for a sequel or expansion of Time for the Stars.

I found Variable Star very entertaining, but I am a great fan of the Spider, and so the Spider prose with strong undertones of Heinlein was grand. Lots of humor --- and why, I wonder, do I see so little discussion of the HUMOR to be found in Heinlein's writing? (of course, it could very well be that I just haven't run across such discussions.)

PS -- I don't really think we will be able to map habitable worlds only by long-distance --- that might be like trying to locate a specific ant-hill with Google Maps-- There would be a lot more data needed than just what would be available from spectral analysis, etc. But maybe things actually will be so advanced soon (... some interesting ideas about unmanned exploration and artificial intelligence in Greg Bear's Queen of Angels from 1990.)
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Old 01-27-2020, 07:25 AM   #10
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Sci Fi is not my favorite genre by any stretch. I did like Wool by Hugh Howey, however, and I like post apocalyptic books even less than Sci-Fi. As I stated in the other thread, I don't go much for Heinlen's Starship Troopers. I did read the original Planet of the Apes. That was pretty good and a definite twist from the movie. I also Enjoyed some of the Star Wars books. The original Thrawn Trilogy by Zahn, and the Hans Solo Trilogy by Crispin. '

Some other recent reads were the The Three Body Problem by Liu. I read it after reading that it was on Obama's summer reading list one year. He called it 'wildly imaginative'. I read the sequels of the trilogy as well. The second was good, the third I had to kind of slog though. Howey's Molly Fyde Series was pretty good, a quick read. I read 2001, just so I could understand the movie somewhat. That was 40 years ago. Ender's Game, I just had to put down after 75 pages and quit. And lastly I did like the Old Man's War Series by Scalzi, it being more a comedy than sci-fi. I bought Hal Space Jock, a comedy series as well, haven't got around to reading it.
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Old 01-27-2020, 08:20 AM   #11
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Sci Fi is not my favorite genre by any stretch. I did like Wool by Hugh Howey, however, and I like post apocalyptic books even less than Sci-Fi. As I stated in the other thread, I don't go much for Heinlen's Starship Troopers. I did read the original Planet of the Apes. That was pretty good and a definite twist from the movie. I also Enjoyed some of the Star Wars books. The original Thrawn Trilogy by Zahn, and the Hans Solo Trilogy by Crispin. '

Some other recent reads were the The Three Body Problem by Liu. I read it after reading that it was on Obama's summer reading list one year. He called it 'wildly imaginative'. I read the sequels of the trilogy as well. The second was good, the third I had to kind of slog though. Howey's Molly Fyde Series was pretty good, a quick read. I read 2001, just so I could understand the movie somewhat. That was 40 years ago. Ender's Game, I just had to put down after 75 pages and quit. And lastly I did like the Old Man's War Series by Scalzi, it being more a comedy than sci-fi. I bought Hal Space Jock, a comedy series as well, haven't got around to reading it.
I'm genuinely intrigued. What is you favorite genre? For me it's cozy mysteries. I too cannot enjoy a lot of sci fi.
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Old 01-27-2020, 08:57 AM   #12
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Sci Fi is not my favorite genre by any stretch. I did like Wool by Hugh Howey, however, and I like post apocalyptic books even less than Sci-Fi. As I stated in the other thread, I don't go much for Heinlen's Starship Troopers. I did read the original Planet of the Apes. That was pretty good and a definite twist from the movie. I also Enjoyed some of the Star Wars books. The original Thrawn Trilogy by Zahn, and the Hans Solo Trilogy by Crispin. '

Some other recent reads were the The Three Body Problem by Liu. I read it after reading that it was on Obama's summer reading list one year. He called it 'wildly imaginative'. I read the sequels of the trilogy as well. The second was good, the third I had to kind of slog though. Howey's Molly Fyde Series was pretty good, a quick read. I read 2001, just so I could understand the movie somewhat. That was 40 years ago. Ender's Game, I just had to put down after 75 pages and quit. And lastly I did like the Old Man's War Series by Scalzi, it being more a comedy than sci-fi. I bought Hal Space Jock, a comedy series as well, haven't got around to reading it.
Sigh, I feel old. It's pretty hard for me to consider anything written after I graduated from college as "Old Masters"
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Old 01-27-2020, 09:04 AM   #13
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An interesting topic. At some point in my early adulthood I transitioned from science fiction to fantasy. Years later I theorized that it was because as I got older I was more knowledgeable about technology and was therefore less impressed by the ideas they were exploring. And then years after that I've come to the conclusion that it was due to wanting stories that were character centric rather than idea or plot centric. That's probably also why I read almost exclusively science fiction short stories rather than novels; you often don't need a whole novel to explore an idea, and then short stories tend to be weak on character development which is also probably why I transitioned to fantasy.

This topic makes me wonder what science fiction books I've read that had good character development and made me care about the character(s). At the moment all I can think of is Dune, by Frank Herbert; I should try rereading that. I remember really loving Zelazny's Jack of Shadows and I tried re-reading it recently but found it weak on making me care about the character. Likewise with World of Tiers by Farmer.
Zelazny was part of a group of authors from the 60's who had what I would call more of a metaphysical focus, rather than a character focus. Moorcock was much the same way. It's kind of like watching some of the early James Bond movies. Characters smoked and drank a lot, were somewhat detached, ironic and were much more interested in abstract speculation than they were in what they were feeling. It was a style of writing popular back then. You weren't suppose to care all that much about the character. There was little likable about Jack of Shadows, which was kind of the point.
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Old 01-27-2020, 09:10 AM   #14
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One of the joys of the old S/F is the "when the world was young" sense of the times they were written in.

Let me give an example from Heinlein.

One of the Juveniles is Time For The Stars. A pair of twins acting as telepathic communications for a sub-light exploration of nearer stars, looking for habitual worlds. A valid premise in 1956. Today. its a joke! Within 50 years, if we bother, we will have mapped all the nearer stars' planets from the comfort of our own solar system. No need for exploration ships into the "unknown".

Who'd have thunk that in the mid 1950's?

Now obsolete, but still entertaining.

Today, there are fewer and fewer "reaches" for the imagination. We've already looked at so many former ones.
One of the oddities of early Heinlien is that his future books still had slide rules and human calculators in them. He predicted the personal mobile phone, but not the smart phone or small computer. Of course, his later books did have computers. A self aware computer is at the heart of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
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Old 01-27-2020, 09:31 AM   #15
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When I think "Old Masters" I tend to think of the SF writers who got their start prior to 1960, rather than those who mostly wrote in the 60's, 70's and 80's. I tend to think of writers like Heinlien, Azimov, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Poul Anderson, Tolkien, Andre Norton, Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague de Camp. Of course, if you want to go real old school, there were the writers who wrote in the 1890-1930's - Eddison, Haggard, William Morris and Lord Dunsany.

There was another wave of writers who got their start in the 60's - Zelazny, Moorcock, Gordon Dickson, Anne McCaffrey to name some.
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