Every now and again the good people over at the online used-book emporium AbeBooks put up collections of grand book covers. Those who like this sort of thing enjoy just trolling through all the glorious old designs, with their funky and outmoded typefaces and abstract illustrations. But every now and again they do more of a curated thematic listing. That’s the case with their recent “50 Essential Science Fiction Novels.” As Richard Davies notes, it’s a fairly impossible task:
I wanted to show the unbelievable breadth of this galactic-sized genre and, of course, I failed because this is just the tip of the spaceberg – there are probably 500 essential science fiction books, not 50.
The list covers everything from William Gibson (pictured) to Jules Verne and J.G. Ballard. It’s not just a piece of literary eye-candy, but a welcome reminder that there’s plenty out there still to be read. (Note to self: need to add more Theodore Sturgeon to the must-buy list.)
Davies notes that selecting these books ”was a virtually impossible task.” Still, there are worse tasks out there in the universe…
As we head into the second-to-last weekend of Christmas shopping, some of you may have a problem: What to get the big reader on my list? Well, the stores are full of great options, but if the person you’re buying for has an adventurous mind (i.e., doesn’t limit their science-fiction intake to The Hunger Games-type YA material), then may we recommend Joe Haldeman?
The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates published a short, wonderfully fannish piece on Haldeman’s classic The Forever War last week that mixed up his appreciation of the book (and its take on permanent militarism and homosexuality, along with other themes) with his love of E.L. Doctorow historical fiction and hip-hop. Check it out.
Shocking that somebody like Coates, who seems to have a particular interest not just in military history but also fantasy and sci-fi, never got around to The Forever War before (it’s in the sci-fi welcome packet, along with Canticle for Leibowitz and any number of early Ballard and PKD).
But in any case, take his word for it, this is one hell of a book—even before you consider that the nation is in the middle of at least one unending conflict right at this moment.
My review of the nine novels in the Library of America’s new two-set volume American Science Fiction is now up at The Millions:
There was something in the air during the 1950s in America that bred an especially grand strain of science fiction whose like was never witnessed before and hasn’t been since. It was a heady concoction: postwar triumph and trauma, unprecedented technological advances, the true advent of mass media swamping the atmosphere, that pseudo-fascistic hum of nationalistic propaganda and blacklisting, and the incessant reminder that a mushroom cloud could end it all… like that. The new Library of America two-volume collection, American Science Fiction: Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s, edited by Gary K. Wolfe, dusts off nine lesser-known novels that illustrate the breadth and depth of what was happening in science fiction during that decade. With its crisply typeset cloth volumes totaling almost 3,000 pages, the sturdy box is a welcome reminder of past joys for some readers and a striking introduction to fresh futuristic wonders and Cold War chills for others…
You can also read essays on these novels by authors from William Gibson to Neil Gaiman at the Library of America site here.