A virtual who's who in a century of imaginative fiction, this new hardcover collection includes classic and influential stories by:Brian W. Aldiss Isaac Asimov Greg Bear Gregory Benford Octavia E. Butler Arthur C. Clarke Philip K. Dick William Gibson Joe Haldeman Robert A. Heinlein Ursula K. Le Guin Anne McCaffrey Frederik Pohl Mike Resnick Kim Stanley Robinson Pamela Sargent Robert Silverberg Clifford D. Simak John Varley Roger Zelazny.
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April 18, 2004
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Excerpt from Masterpieces by Ben Stroud
MAKING A LIST of the best science fiction stories of the century is the same as making a list of the best science fiction stories of the millennium. Or, for that matter, the best ever, up to now, because the entire history of science fiction as a self-conscious literary community begins well into the 1900s, when Hugo Gernsback published the first magazine devoted to "scientifiction," defined as "scientific romances like those written by H. G. Wells."
H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and a whole slew of adventure writers (including A. Merritt, H. Rider Haggard, and others who went on to be full-fledged sci-fi writers, like Edmond Hamilton) wrote stories that, in hindsight, clearly belong as part of the science fiction tradition. But they did not think of their stories as being a new kind of literature. Nor did they see themselves as belonging to a different literary community when they wrote stories that included alien races, strange new inventions, or astonishing relics of the past.
With the publication of Gernsback's Amazing Stories, however, the landscape changed. There were now boundaries -- which would eventually, for a while at least, become ghetto walls, much to the benefit of the genre -- such that only stories of a certain kind could appear within, thus defining what science fiction was and, by implication, what it was not. And there was a letters column.
It was the letters column, really, that created the community. Enthusiasts of the new genre wrote in to Gernsback and then avidly read each other's published letters. Then, skipping the middleman, they wrote directly to each other, and after a while began to meet and talk about what science fiction was and what it could be or should be. They started writing their own stories and sharing them with each other, and eventually began meeting as clubs and, later, in conventions that assembled serious readers of the genre from faraway places, until today the World Science Fiction convention draws participants from dozens of countries and languages (though English remains the lingua franca -- or, if you prefer, the common koine -- of the genre).
As readers became "fans" -- participants in the ongoing public conversation of the sci-fi community -- and fans became writers, they began to develop critical principles quite unconnected to the literary ideas being taught in the American university, where theories of criticism came and went, alike only in the fact that all were designed to show why the works of the Modernists (the most recent literary revolution before science fiction) were Great Art. Naturally, the academics, who were relentlessly focused on celebrating Woolf, Lawrence, Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Faulkner, Hemingway, and their literary kin and kith, had no notion of what was going on within the walls of the science fiction ghetto.