[FRIAM] Science Fiction Books

Steve Smith sasmyth at swcp.com
Sun Sep 3 14:56:21 EDT 2023

Jochen -

I thought of you more than few times on my long walkabout through 
Red/Purple-state 'murrica...  mostly your concerns a year or two ago 
about traveling to the US "because gun violence".   I was in the heart 
of "gun country" through this trip and saw a few artifacts of that which 
would naturally be *very* disturbing (methinks) to someone not already 
innured to it... but not nearly as many as you might expect.  On the 
other hand I just saw a news item that Canada and many other first-world 
countries have in place "travel warnings" for not the US proper, but 
many of the more egregious "red states".   I believe you may have 
already made your 'murrican sojourn so the point may be moot... but I 
couldn't help thinking "how would Jochen see this?" as I stumbled 
through a landscape of bison, hay bales, corn fields, motorcycles, strip 
malls, and gun shows.

> I have read "Highway of Eternity" from Clifford D. Simak this weekend, 
> one of the books from the golden age of science fiction which is 
> comparable to "The city and the Stars" from Arthur C. Clarke and "The 
> end of eternity" from Isaac Asimov. Both belong to my favorite books. 
> Modern authors don't write like this anymore. Their books are often 
> gloomy and depressive, and do not span millions of years. What is your 
> favorite science fiction book? Will the AI breakthrough in large 
> language models lead to more optimistic science fiction books again?

Back on topic:  I grew up on a lot of "Golden Age" works/authors which 
includes Simak/Clarke/Asimov of course.   I would claim that this time 
was naturally one of "Utopianism" that came with the rapid development 
of industry/technology/science.  I think the Dystopianism ramped up with 
PostModernism and Cyberpunk.   I'm a big fan of Cyberpunk (esp.. 
Gibson/Sterling/Stephenson/Cadigan/etc.) and *some* post-Apocalyptic 
works... now almost exclusively "CliFi" (Climate Fiction), but I get 
your yearning for "the good ole days".   I'd say Elon Musk grew up on 
"too much Utopian SF" as well and (unlike me) hasn't outgrown it?

My *favorite* golden-age author is Jack Williamson 
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Williamson> who I've mentioned here 
before and had the distinction of being somewhat elder when he published 
his first work at age 20 (1928) in Hugo Gernsback's first-of-kind 
Amazing Stories (1926).   I feel like he hit his stride after WWII where 
he had been a (civilian, not military due to age) Weatherman in the 
Pacific and reacted to a dawning self-awareness of the flip side of 
techno-Utopianism (exemplified by Hiroshima/Nagasaki)... His (re)entry 
into publication after a long hiatus (during/after WWII) was With Folded 
Hands <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_Folded_Hands>, a reflective 
dystopian view of techno-utopianism as well as work presaging Asimov's 
Robot series as well as a plethora of concepts like 
Borg/Cylon/Replicant/Terminators/Cybermen/Sentinels, etc...   and of 
course all of this was preceded by Lem's Trurl and Klapaucius 
(wizard-robot constructors) and the Hebrew Golem (and Frankenstein's 
Monster and... and and.)  He wrote over 50 novels ultimately in his 98 
year long life as well as myriad short stories, novellas and a 3 year 
run of a comic strip (early 50s)... He also penned a reflective 
autobiography late in life (70s) but with nearly 20 years worth of 
career following that! He taught writing at Eastern NM University well 
into his 90s as well.

For the most part I'm thankful to be beyond the flat-character 
cardboard-cutout, misogynistic, stoicly independent/capable (white-male) 
hero-worship classic SF tropes but I hear your interest in more positive 
grand narratives that the Golden Age also carried.  For the seminal 
Epoch-spanning humanity I offer Olaf Stapledon's "Last and First Men" 
(1930) and "Starmaker" (1933).  The former spans 2 billion years and 18 
human species...

Robert Heinlein is the avowed Master of Human Chauvanistic 
technoUtopian/Libertarian fantasies which even satisfies some of us 
reformed/anti-Libertarians sometimes.   Many of his more minor novels 
are a fun romp in near-future techno-utopianism (e.g. Moon is a Harsh 
Mistress) as well as epoch and dimensional spanning works such as /Time 
Enough for Love /and /Job/ (respectively). /Stranger in a Strange Land/ 
stood up well next to Herbert's /Dune/ in the 60s to satisfy Hippies and 
non-Hippies alike.

Larry Niven's /Ringworld /series are pretty 
far-flung/futuristic/optimistic epochal.  He does post-Apocalyptic well 
too (e.g. /FootFall/, /Mote in God's Eye/)

I did enjoy Simak's work "back in the day" and his 1968 "So Bright the 
Vision" gestured toward what ChatGPT is today.

A.E. Van Vogt offers some great classics as well... /The Worlds of Null 
A /and /Weapons Shops of Isher/ stand out.

Poul Anderson simultaneously created/celebrated and lampooned the 
canonical pulp hero with his Nicholas van Rijn characters in a series of 
works and his /PsychoTechnic League/ is a Future History to rival 
Asimov's /Foundation/ series.

I know you asked for "_*A*_ favorite" but I'm not so good at narrowing 
such things down...  hope you made it through my romp of recommendations 
and at least one is useful!   If you lived closer (same continent?) I 
would bequeath you a few boxes of pulp from that era <grin>...

- Steve
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