SciFi and an old wild west type of hero

Jack Vance, Planet of Adventure

I really enjoyed this one. Once I’ve start to read it, I couldn’t put it down. Better yet I’ve read it four times during the past 20 years. That only happened with two other books: Robinson Crusoe and Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Put it on my Christmas list… Not sure how much I’ll like the superhuman hero, but the ideas in the book(s) sound fascinating from what I’ve read elsewhere.

I’ve just been looking through the reviews of Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series, too. I loved Joe Haldeman’s Forever War, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon and Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (Tiger, Tiger). Along with all the Philip K. Dick books, of course. So now I’m after Pavane, Lords of Light, Babel-17 and A Canticle for Leibowitz, all of which look like they have the sort of big ideas I love. I’m not really a hard SF kind of guy, but “soft” SF (is the opposite of “hard” SF “soft”?), the stuff that isn’t so much about the science as about the ideas (Huxley’s “novel of ideas”), I love…


You’ve just named a fair number of my favorite SF books from my high school and college days. The incomparably evocative Pavane especially has lasted, along with Dick, so I’d start there, but all of those are great novels. Sadly, my misplaced priorities of recent years have prevented me from keeping up with the field, but I can recommend Delany’s Einstein Intersection, Zelazny’s This Immortal and the short stories from the Lord of Light period, Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness, Kate Wilhelm’s Margaret & I and short stories of that period, J.G. Ballard… well, there’s too many to list. I’ve read quite a few superb SF books from after that great '60s and '70s era, of course, but that’ll probably always be my personal Golden Age.

Thanks, Brett. There was a great article in last week’s Sunday Times in which Brian Appleyard defended SF and criticised the tendency of British critics to turn their nose up at the genre: … 961480.ece

Ironically, the Sunday Times are one of the worst offenders. They regularly review thrillers and historical fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them review a science fiction novel. (The Guardian at least have a science fiction section every couple of weeks.)

I tended to turn my own nose up in the same way for many years, sadly. I loved SF as a kid and have always had a penchant for SF or slipstream movies, but suffered an unfortunate bout of literary-snobbism for many years. As I get older, I’m finding it more and more difficult to find literary novels that really grip me, though, and I’m beginning to appreciate the way great SF can tackle really big ideas in ways that a novel constrained by verisimilitude cannot.

So, thanks again for the recommendations. I’m glad the choices I’ve made for Christmas are good ones (they’ve all gone on my Christmas list) - I can’t wait to start reading.

All the best,

Like Keith, I squandered much of my youth reading SF. Then I squandered much of my (relatively) young adulthood reading what an under-appreciated old professor used to call “the stuff those lit’ry types tend to write.” Now I’ve come back to reading books I enjoy, whether they’re “good” for me or not. And that means, largely, genre fiction.

Appleyard did not mention as I expected he would – perhaps it’s too cliched – the Ted Sturgeon line, which is sometimes referred to as Sturgeon’s Law. When an interviewer complained that ninety percent of science fiction was crud, Sturgeon answered, “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” (The line is usually quoted today as “crap” rather than “crud,” but most publications at the time – this was forty years ago or more – would have hesitated to print “crap.”)


I hadn’t heard of that, but Sturgeon’s Law certainly hits the nail on the head. :slight_smile:

One of the best science fiction novels I’ve read the last few years was Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Years of Rice and Salt.” It’s an alternate history novel - what if the Black Plague had killed off not one third of Europe, but 90%? How would history - and technology - have developed? What would the world look like now? There is a fantasy element, in that the two main characters are supposedly reincarnated time after time, in different centuries of this “other” history, but the different segments themselves are really thought provoking. By the way, “the years of rice and salt” refer to the years that a soul spends on earth when it is reincarnated, before returning to the Buddhist Bardo, where it will review what it has learned from those years. Some of the segments - which take place in different countries as well as different years - are more intriguing than others, and I was sorry to leave them when it was time to move on, but even the slower ones made me think. I finished the book feeling that I had actually BEEN somewhere, which is what good fiction should do.