Hello everyone! We’ve just added a new “best of” list to Worlds Without End (#33!) that we think you’re really gonna like: Science Fiction by Women Writers.
This list comes to us from WWEnder and Uber User, the King of Lists himself, Mr. James Wallace Harris and his compatriot Mike Jorgensen. Jim and Mike created this new list using the time tested method that gave us the much revered Classics of Science Fiction list. Basically they reviewed every damn list they could find (65 in all!) and picked the books by women writers that made it onto at least 4 of those lists. The result is a who’s who of women in genre fiction and a great place to find some great reads. Be sure to check out the Classics of Science Fiction website for the source lists and essays.
This new list is an excellent addition to the other women-centric lists we feature on WWEnd including Ian Sales’ popular SF Mistressworks, David G. Hartwell’s 200 Significant SF Books by Women, and WWEnd’s own Award Winning Books by Women Authors. If you’re ready to explore more works by women authors these lists will take you far along that road.
And as long as you’re at it join us for the 5th annual WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge! This year’s iteration has reading levels from just 6 books, enough to get your feet wet, all the way up to 48 books, for those looking to dive deep.
Our thanks to Jim and Mike for building such a great list and sharing it with us on WWEnd! Let us know what you think about the new list in the comments below. Read on!
How old were you when you first encountered the concept of time travel? I used to believe it was when I first saw the George Pal version of The Time Machine which came out in 1960, and I didn’t see until 1962 or 1963 when I was ten or eleven. Memory is a highly unreliable resource, especially for dating. I vaguely remember that seeing the movie made me get the book from my school library the next day. What’s weird, is I don’t remember being blown away by the idea of a time machine at that time. And time travel is certainly a concept that was mind blowing. What I remember, was being blown away at the idea that humans could mutate into new species. Now that was something to think about.
My guess is I already knew about time travel. But when did I first encounter the idea?
In past decades I assumed all the great science fiction concepts like aliens, robots, time travel, interstellar travel, artificial intelligence came from reading science fiction. But in more recent years, as I wrote about my past, struggling to get the facts right, I realized that assumption was wrong. This line of thought started when I tried to remember when I first learned about dinosaurs. I wondered why little kids love dinosaurs, and if they understood dinosaurs existed millions of years ago and are now extinct. Those are heavy concepts too – vast times and extinction. I remember having dreams about dinosaurs when I was four or five, well before I could read, or attend school. And I don’t remember my parents telling me about dinosaurs. How did I learn about them?
Finally, I assumed I was introduced to all the far out ideas of science fiction via television, even though I grew up in the 1950s when television was primitive. That’s why I’ve felt I’ve always known about outer space, robots and traveling through time. Hell, I might have been exposed to time travel before I could tell time.
Evidently, childhood was a phase when my mind was a mass of proto-concepts gathered from television – like Pangaea before splitting into distinguishable continents. Reading science fiction shaped those vague impressions into precise concepts. Although reading Time Travel by James Gleick made me realize that time travel is a tremendously complex subject that we continue to refine.
Now here’s the thing I really want to talk about. In this age of alternate facts, should we be raising kids by stuffing them with fantasy and fantastic beliefs before they understand the nature of reality? We believe that make-believe is perfect for young minds, but is that true? Can you imagine a different way, where we taught kids facts first, and then later introduced them to fantasy?
Can you imagine growing up only seeing science shows that carefully explained what we know and how we know it? How would that change society? Would a fact-based early childhood education make us more realistic about reality? Is fiction the driving force that makes us constantly reshape reality with alternative facts? Does fantasy consumption encourage fantasy viewpoints? What an idea for a science fiction/fantasy novel! Imagine our world without science fiction and fantasy.
Let’s consider one more thing. What if we raised kids without fiction — at what age would they invent time travel on their own? When would they imagine building robots that could think like people, or traveling to Mars? Do we cheat our kids by telling them about all the far out ideas before they could invent them on their own?
Science fiction is a technology for transmitting speculative ideas, ones that writers have predigested for us, sort of like when Neo in The Matrix is taught martial arts with a program injected into his brain. I’m just wondering if we’d have more grit if we acquired our concepts through working out ideas ourselves.
Recommended Recent Reads:
- The Making of Future Man – James Gleick writes about Hugo Gernsback
- 30 years of Culture: what are the top five Iain M Banks novels?
- Disunion: Vision of Our Fragmented Future – Paul Di Filippo
- Beware the Retrofuture: Elan Mastai and Jack Womack Navigate the Problems of SciFi Nostalgia
- Groundhog Day Breaks the Rules of Every Genre
The 2016 Philip K. Dick Award nominees have been announced:
- Consider by Kristy Acevedo (Jolly Fish)
- Hwarhath Stories: Transgressive Tales by Aliens by Eleanor Arnason (Aqueduct)
- The Mercy Journals by Claudia Casper (Arsenal Pulp)
- Unpronounceable by Susan diRende (Aqueduct)
- Graft by Matt Hill (Angry Robot)
- Super Extra Grande by Yoss (Restless)
The award is presented annually to a distinguished work of science fiction originally published in paperback form in the United States from the previous calendar year. First prize and any special citations will be announced on Friday, April 14, 20176 at Norwescon 40 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport, SeaTac, Washington.
Have you read any of these? What looks good to you on that list?
At The Little Red Reviewer, they are having Vintage Science Fiction Month where readers post reviews of older science fiction books they’ve recently read. I read The Stars Are Ours! and it’s sequel Star Born by Andre Norton, and The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard. I reviewed the process at my blog. But since then I’ve been thinking about why we read vintage science fiction, and if the why changes because of our age. Does someone who is twelve today, perceive The Stars Are Ours! different than I did when I was twelve in 1963?
I assume the main appeal of vintage science fiction is nostalgia, and most of us who read it are older. In other words, we’ve lived long enough for some books to age. Do they age like fine wine or a stack of old newspapers? What is the essence of vintage?
That we notice a difference implies books written in the 1950s are different from books written in the 2010s. From my perspective, that’s true. Science fiction written in the 1920s has a distinctive style than science fiction written in any of the decades since. For proof of my point, check out The Pulp Magazine Archive. This site has scans of pulp magazines that you can read online, including early issues of Amazing Stories. I’m going to assume you’ll agree with me that the stories change. Now the question: Do we change?
If I could send a copy of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu back to my teenage self to read and write a review, how would it be different from the review I would write today? Even President Obama was impressed with this book. Do all of us experience the same wow or is that impact different if the reader is young or old? Or if readers back in the 1960s could read The Three-Body Problem would they perceive it as something very different? Could they sense that it was written in the future like my younger self could sense reading The Skylark of Space by E. E. Smith was very old, written in the past?
Maybe another way to approach my query is to ask: Does an older reader today feel The Drowned World is vintage science fiction in the same way a young reader would? Our feeling of “vintage” might be a sense of nostalgia, while a young person might define it as feeling old-fashioned and quaint. But what if the young reader hadn’t read much science fiction? Would an unsophisticated 12-year-old reader of 2017 be that different from one in 1967? It could be possible they’d react to the story in many of the same ways.
When I first read Foundation by Isaac Asimov in the 1960s, I was reading stories written in the 1940s, and it didn’t seem old or vintage. Could a kid today get an ebook copy of Star Flight by Andre Norton that reprints The Stars Are Ours! and Star Born, not noticed the 1954 and 1957 copyright dates, read these books and think they were written today? Or would they sense their vintage quality?
Science fiction has always been more than adventure stories for me. Science fiction is my Aristotle and Augustine, giving meaning to our meaningless reality. When you recall the science fiction tales that meant the most to you, were they thrill rides? Or maps of speculation? I use science to statistically explain how reality works, but I use science fiction to speculate how we can manipulate reality. That was when I was young. Now that I’m older, I use science fiction to imagine how things might play out on Earth after I leave.
I’ve often wondered why science fiction is my chosen literature. Why do we pick the things we love? Is it free will, or some kind of adaptation or instinct? If a super-AI studied my habits like human scientists study chimps, what would it make of my choices in literature? Do aspects of my personality explain why I was drawn to science fiction?
Over at the Classic Science Fiction book club, we’ve been discussing our personal top ten favorite science fiction stories. What surprised me was the diversity of titles we embraced. Many of the stories are not on my Classics of Science Fiction, a list of the statistically most remembered science fiction books. You can see what stories members picked listed here. This made me wonder why we love the science fiction stories we do. The picks are as individualistic as fingerprints. There’s been some discussion at the group about all of this, but it inspired me to write this essay. Are we attracted to objectively great books, or do we seek books that mirror our subjective selves?
Sometimes I feel there’s no such thing as a great book, at least not in a measurable sense. The books we think are great are merely the ones that reflect our strongest desires. They don’t need to be well written, brilliant, or literary. They just need to trigger emotions. With me it might be accidental that they are science fiction. Or, are science fiction fans the kind of people drawn to the fantastic? Is mundane reality too tame for our ordinary lives?
Here are the ten titles I sent the book club. The list might be different on another day, or maybe not. These are the books I reread. These are the books I keep writing about. (Title links in the list go to WWEnd pages, title links in the essay are to older essays.)
- Have Space Suit-Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1958)
- “The Star Pit” by Samuel R. Delany (1967)
- Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (1955)
- Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)
- Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein (1956)
- Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany (1966)
- Confessions of a Crap Artist by Philip K. Dick (1959)
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick (1962)
- The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (1895)
- The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein (1957)
My favorite science fiction is 50 years or older, and written by men. Is this list a Rorschach test for my personality? I do love modern science fiction, and often think it better written and more sophisticated than my favorites here. And I do prefer the diversity of modern SF. Yet, these are the stories burned in my memory. I read most of these stories before I turned 20. It might be our life-time favorites are the books we read in youth. First impressions are often the lasting impressions.
I first read Have Space Suit-Will Travel during the 1964-65 school year, at the dawn of Project Gemini. I was in the 8th grade and dying to blast off into space – just like Kip, the main character. I wished I was like Kip in many ways, but I wasn’t. I wanted to work hard in school, have my own science workshop, and live in a stable happy family located in a small town. None of those were true for me. I’ve read Have Space Suit-Will Travel six or eight times. It is the definitive science fiction novel for me. Back then it was my road map of the future, now it’s the tintype of my nostalgic past. For some baby boomers growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, the Heinlein juveniles were our substitute for religion. Those twelve books gave us faith, not in a sacred heaven, but in a secular outer space.
“The Star Pit” is also about the relentless desire to go into space, but ultimately deals with the limitations that hold us back. I first read this story in 1968, when I was slightly older and knew I wasn’t going into space. “The Star Pit” is tattooed on my heart, and whenever I reread it, the story squeezes tears out of my eyes, like beautiful songs of heartbreak. It might be the most mature of the ten stories I list here, even though it was written by the youngest writer at the time. The main character and my father were alcoholics who always had the restless urge to run away. I was Ratlit, and I wished my father had been the older Vyme. This story could easily have been a mainstream literary work without science fictional elements. I imagine its based on Delany’s own experiences, and he knew he wasn’t going into space too.
I read Tunnel in the Sky and Time for the Stars during the same school year as Have Space Suit-Will Travel. Both were about boys who left their families to be on their own. My parents’ marriage was a train wreck, and I wished I could have divorced them. I grew up loving stranded on deserted island stories, and Tunnel was a science fiction version of one. I believe the reason I was so attracted to the Heinlein juveniles is because their teen heroes always found ways to leave their parents.
Earth Abides also belongs to one of my favorite kinds of stories – last man on Earth stories. There is a side of me that wishes I was the last man on Earth. I love the idea of starting civilization over with a few other people or even being the last person watching nature reclaim the planet. I’ve always been kind of a loner even though I’ve been married for 38 years and have many friends. My childhood would have crushed most children, but I survived by dreaming, especially science fiction dreams.
Empire Star fits me philosophically. I read it maybe in 1967. Delany was closer to my age, and his work felt radically different from all the older science fiction writers I was discovering. Heinlein was like a father figure, but Delany was like a brother. Empire Star has wise advice for young people going out on their own for the first time. Delany’s insight into simplex, complex and multiplex was the best concept I ever learned from science fiction. I completely identified with both Comet Jo and Ni Ty.
I love Confessions of a Crap Artist because it’s how I remember the 1950s. My uncles were crap artists. I think all science fiction fans have a bit of crap artist in them. I love this novel because it shows we’re all crazy in unique ways. I believe this is PKD’s best book. Confessions is somewhat autobiographical, and one of Dick’s attempts to write literary. I love The Man in the High Castle because it’s about a little guy trying to survive in a very strange reality and make sense of it. How universal is that? PKD was great at writing about powerless people. His wife at the time he wrote these novels, Anne R. Dick, has written a memoir of those years, The Search for Philip K. Dick. To become a Dickhead means falling down the rabbit hole of trying to decipher PKD. I keep rereading his literary novels and his biographies to figure out why he wrote all those bizarrely wonderful novels that resonate with me.
I love The Time Machine because I consider it the archetype of science fiction. The time machine was cool, but not the point. Wells’ speculative explorations were epic. That’s how I define science fiction – as speculation. I love The Time Machine in the same way I love Olaf Stapledon’s majestic speculations. This is what I want from science fiction – to think really big thoughts.
I fell in love with The Door into Summer for two reasons. First, it’s about inventing robots in a home workshop. I always wanted to build robots. Second, Daniel Boone Davis slept his way into the future, and I would love to do that. I wish I could take 50-year naps to see how history progresses.
There are many other science fiction books I love, but for the moment, these are the ten I picked to share with the book club members. Picking ten books is just something fun we did this week, but I think our choices are revealing. Certainly more telling than exchanging astrological signs, maybe with as much validity as a Briggs-Myers test.
If you want to be revealing, list the ten science fiction stories you love most in the comments below.
We’ve recently updated the Classics of Science Fiction list from version 3 to 4. Because of this, some books that were on version 3 have fallen off the latest list. My main reason for producing the classics list is to track how books are remembered and forgotten. Most books are forgotten soon after they are printed, so to get on our list and stay on it for years means a huge number of readers are remembering those books. When books fall of the list, it doesn’t mean those books are unworthy of reading anymore, but that readers are forgetting them. Sometimes books are rediscovered, especially if they get new editions, produced as audio books, or made into films or television shows. Generally, books slide into obscurity. Old readers die off, and new readers never find the better older books.
Many of the titles that dropped off the list were books published before 1950. For version 3, we used several lists for library collection development, or critical histories of science fiction. For version 4, we had more fan polls. Version 3 had many short stories collections and anthologies that didn’t make it to version 4. Plus, many classic titles from 1950-1975 fell off. I assume newer readers aren’t discovering older books.
I also think version 4 is a better list than version 3. Most of the second half of version 3 didn’t make it to version 4. Which makes me wonder if the bottom half of version 4 will disappear when we create version 5 in ten years.
Here are the titles that fell of the list this time. The ones in red are books I’ve reread in the recent years and think still deserve to be read. There are plenty of books on the list below I still plan to reread.
- 334 (1972) by Thomas Disch
- The Absolute at Large (1927) by Karel Čapek
- Across the Zodiac (1880) by Percy Greg
- Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) edited by Harlan Ellison
- Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell
- Astounding Science Fiction Anthology (1952) edited by John W. Campbell
- Back to Methuselah (1921) by George Bernard Shaw
- The Battle of Dorking (1871) by Sir George Chesney
- Before the Golden Age (1974) edited by Isaac Asimov
- Behold the Man (1969) by Michael Moorcock
- The Best of C. L. Moore (1975) by C. L. Moore
- The Best of C. M. Kornbluth by C. M. Kornbluth
- The Best of Henry Kuttner (1975) by Henry Kuttner
- The Best of Science Fiction (1946) edited by Groff Conklin
- Beyond Apollo (1972) by Barry N. Malzberg
- The Big Time (1961) by Fritz Leiber
- The Black Cloud (1957) by Fred Hoyle
- Brain Wave (1954) by Poul Anderson
- Bring the Jubilee (1953) by Ward Moore
- Bug Jack Barron (1969) by Norman Spinrad
- Casey Agonistes (1973) by Richard McKenna
- Chronopolis and Other Stories (1971) by J. G. Ballard
- The Chrysalids (1955) by John Wyndham
- The Clockwork Man (1923) by E. V. Odle
- The Coming Race (1871) by Edward Bulwer Lytton
- Dark Universe (1961) by Daniel F. Galouye
- Davy (1964) by Edgar Pangborn
- The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher
- Deathbird Stories (1975) by Harlan Ellison
- Deathworld (1960) by Harry Harrison
- Deluge (1927) by S. Fowler Wright
- The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth and Other Stories (1971) by Roger Zelazny
- Dorsai (1976) by Gordon Dickson
- Downward to the Earth (1970) by Robert Silverberg
- The Dream Master (1966) by Roger Zelazny
- The Dying Earth (1950) by Jack Vance
- E Pluribus Unicorn (1953) by Theodore Sturgeon
- The Embedding (1973) by Ian Watson
- Engine Summer (1979) by John Crowley
- Erewhon (1872) by Samuel Butler
- Final Blackout (1948) L. Ron Hubbard
- The Girl in the Golden Atom (1922) by Ray Cummings
- Gray Lensman (1951) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
- Greybeard (1964) by Brian Aldiss
- Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift
- The Hampdenshire Wonder (1911) by J. D. Beresford
- Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad
- Islands in the Net (1988) by Bruce Sterling
- The Lensman Series (1948) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
- The Listeners (1972) by James Gunn
- The Long Tomorrow (1955) by Leigh Brackett
- Looking Backward (1880) by Edward Bellamy
- The Lost World (1912) by Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Lovers (1961) by Philip José Farmer
- The Machine Stops and Other Stories (1909) by E. M. Forster
- Make Room! Make Room! (1966) by Harry Harrison
- Man Plus (1976) by Frederik Pohl
- A Martian Odyssey and Other Science Fiction Tales (1975) by Stanley G. Weinbaum
- The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham
- A Mirror for Observers (1954) by Edgar Pangborn
- Norstrillia (1975) by Cordwainer Smith
- Nova (1968) by Samuel R. Delany
- Of All Possible Worlds (1955) by William Tenn
- On the Beach (1957) by Nevil Shute
- On the Wings of Song (1979) by Thomas Disch
- The Past Through Tomorrow (1967) by Robert A. Heinlein
- Perelandra (1943) by C. S. Lewis
- The Persistence of Vision (1978) by John Varley
- Play Piano (1952) by Kurt Vonnegut
- The Poison Belt (1913) by Arthur Conan Doyle
- Riddley Walker (1980) by Russell Hoban
- The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One (1970) edited by Robert Silverberg
- The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe (1976) by Edgar Allan Poe
- The Science Fiction of Jack London (1975) by Jack London
- She (1886) by H. Rider Haggard
- The Sheep Look Up (1972) by John Brunner
- The Short Stories of H. G. Wells (1927) by H. G. Wells
- Sirius (1944) by Olaf Stapledon
- The Skylark of Space (1946) by E. E. “Doc” Smith
- Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Lewis Stevenson
- That Hideous Strength (1945) by C. S. Lewis
- To-Morrow’s Yesterday (1932) by John Gloag
- Under Pressure (1956) by Frank Herbert
- Untouched by Human Hands (1954) by Robert Sheckley
- A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay
- The Wanderer (1964) by Fritz Leiber
- War of the Newts (1936) by Karel Čapek
- The Weigher of Souls (1931) by Andrew Maurois
- Who Goes There? (1948) by John W. Campbell
- The Wind’s Twelve Quarters (1975) by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Witches of Karres (1966) by James H. Schmitz
- Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) Marge Piercy
- The World Below (1930) by S. Fowler Wright
Editor’s note: WWEnd has recently updated our Classics of Science Fiction list from version 3 to match Jim and Michael’s new version 4.