Okay it’s time. For two years now, I have amassed a library of classic SFF books but have not managed so far to tear into reading them. To be fair, I read 52 books a year just for SFFWRTCHT. And I do get requests for other interviews now, so I read another 20-40 for those throughout the year. That’s a lot of reading for a guy who takes about 5 days to go through a 350 page novel. That amount of reading will not change. I am still committed, happily, to that and grateful for the way it has allowed me to read a broad spectrum of SFF contemporary works by a wide variety of authors.
But I have this gap in knowledge that keeps coming back to haunt me, and, as time goes on, I fear it only deepens. As I go to Cons and participate in panels, as I talk with other writers about craft, not being familiar with some of the very classic works everyone so often talks about is a handicap and I must overcome it. So I am challenging myself to a Journey Through The Classics. I’m starting with a few core books and will expand as I can. I am going to read these, most of them fortunately much shorter as older novels used to be, and then add more to the list, with the hopes that I can start catching up my knowledge of the SFF field through history. I have also acquired a number of older magazines, some pulp, some 20-year-old issues of magazines like F&SF, Analog and Amazing. I am going to work my way through those as well. But first, I need to get going on these books, so here’s my list, most of which I have not yet read, some of which I may have at some point but don’t remember.
The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The Skylark Of Space by EE Smith
To Open The Sky by Robert Silverberg
Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov
The Listeners by James Edwin Gunn
The Weapon Shops Of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt
Nerves by Lester del Rey
Necromancer by Gordon R. Dickson
The Triumph of Time by James Blish
Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinelin
Dune by Frank Herbert
Doc Savage: The Thousand Headed Man by Kenneth Robeson
Stands Of Zanzibar by John Brunner
It should be noted before someone suggests it, I have already read the entirety of Asimov’s Foundation. I realize Van Vogt has more noted books but so far I have not found them so I will read one of the ones I have. The Silverberg and del Rey are personal choices. I have never read del Rey and feel I should since he is an icon. Silverberg is my favorite of all SFF authors and I have not read his early work and want to do that. A friend recommended To Open The Sky as one with faith (not just religious) themes, and since I have done panels on this to great reception I feel it’s time to start reading source material for those so I can only increase their value.
I am also not committing to read these books in any particular order. Honestly, I likely will attempt the shorter ones first, because of my reading time and just to get in a flow. I plan to do reviews/commentary on these as I finish for my own value more than anyone else’s, although I will share that here. These will not be full on reviews but really more my own ponderings and interactions with the texts. They’re classics. What do I have to add that hasn’t been said before by many people? Not much as a reviewer, but as a fan and writer interacting with them, I hope there will be some nuggets of learning and discovery worth sharing.
I certainly reserve the right to update my list at my own discretion. In other words, I will allow you to suggest books but I feel no pressure about which I choose to read and when. I have left A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams off the list because I read half and didn’t care for it. I do need to read it again but I’ll have to get in the right mood. And before the smart alecs show up, I do have a sense of humor. I love comedic books. I just found this one odd, not all the funny. But I do respect its place and regard amongst fandom and I do feel I should give it another chance at some point so I’d expect it to come on the list at some point during this Journey which may last several years because it takes as long as it takes.
For a good list of some of the books I’ve read in the past, including many considered classics, I posted my 70 Most Memorable SFF Books I’ve Read here.
I hope some of you will engage with me on this journey and perhaps even join me. Who we are today is very much informed by the past. And often whom we become and the strength, value and character of it is determined by our knowledge of the past. After all, we not only learn from our mistakes but those of our forefathers.
I very much look forward to the education of this journey and to your thoughts and my own along the way. For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.
9 thoughts on “Journey Through The SFF Classics: A Beginning”
That is a scary amount of books to read. I’m such a slow reader, I’d have to give up blogging and writing to read that many.
Start with Heinelin – the two on your list are good.
And if you’ve read all of Asimov’s books then my hat’s off to you. I couldn’t get through even one.
I have not read all of Asimov’s. Just a few and mostly Foundation. They challenged me but they were filled with amazing ideas.
Interesting list, Bryan. DUNE is fantastic. CAVES OF STEEL is perhaps a perfect blend of science fiction and arm-chair detective story. I’ve only read a couple of stories that make up van Vogt’s THE WEAPONS SHOP, but they were pretty good. NERVES is Lester at close to his best, although I’ve only read the novelette and not the expanded novel. I still contend that the best thing del Rey ever wrote (and one of the best science fiction stories I’ve read) is “The Day Is Done” (Astounding, May 1939).
It took me three tries (back in the late 1990s) to read Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND and to this day, it is the only Heinlein I’ve read which I didn’t like. Much earlier works like BEYOND THIS HORIZON– (written as Anson MacDonald) and later works like FRIDAY were much better. That said, I’ve agreed to re-read STRANGER this year to see if my opinion has changed.
I’ll be interested to hear what you think of these as you read through them.
It is an interesting list. There are a couple on there I’ve never heard of (The Listeners and Swords Against Death)
I agree with Jamie — Stranger in a Strange Land is not my favorite Heinlein. I’d do The Moon is a Harsh Mistress if you are looking for one of his later and more literary works.
And you didn’t like Hitchhiker’s? I ate that one up, but it was well over a decade ago.
Dying Earth is on my short list, which is the inspiration for my favorite series — Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.
Well Swords Against Death is one of the early Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser books and The Listeners is James Gunn’s first contact book, considered the classic of that trope. James Gunn heads the Center For the Study of Science Fiction at University of Kansas and he’s a Grandmaster. They publish a great list of essential books for a Basic SF Library which I’ve used as my shopping list in collecting classics and knowing who and what to read.
I also feel that I need to bone up on the classics of sci-fi, so your list is very welcome. However, I’m curious – how did you create this list? Many of these I’ve never heard of, while other books that I’ve read and understood to be important to the genre – like “More than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon – are not included.
I created it based on the SF Library, per the link, and also what I could find in used book stores. Many important works I don’t own yet, and many are also longer. Because I want to read a lot quickly, I am starting with mostly shorter works to get my feet wet. My TBR pile is already imposing and I have to squeeze these in, so I needed to be practical. It will at least introduce me to key writers and then as I see how I respond, I will add to the list and go from there. Those whose work moves me to explore more of their writing will be visited again soon. Others may not be.
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