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-   -   What is the quintessential science fiction novel? (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=299248)

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 07:37 PM

What is the quintessential science fiction novel?
 
[url=http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/newreply.php?do=newreply&p=5771632]This post got me thinking about sf, and if there is a book that most fans can agree epitomizes the genre. We need to decide on a book that can be our flagship to the literary universe, one that we can proudly point to when people say, "science fiction? Isn't that, like, robots 'nd stuff?" While it doesn't necessarily have to be hard sf, I think we need to stay away from cyberpunk, alternate histories, utopian/dystopian literature, and speculative fiction. Since each of these is a sub-genre, I don't think they can represent the breadth of the whole sf genre.

I nominate Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, because of the fame of the author, the epic scope of the novels, and the accessibility of the novels.

My second choice would be one of Orson Scott Card's Ender series, because Card does a great job of keeping his characters human, and his books lack the "cold" feel of some more classic sf.

RealityChuck 01-27-2005 07:49 PM

If you're talking traditional literary quality, it'll be Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

For a great read, it's Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination.

Jonathan Chance 01-27-2005 07:49 PM

I agree with Heinlein...

The Mote in God's Eye is spectacular in all the right Science Fictional ways.

silenus 01-27-2005 07:55 PM

Ringworld

No, wait......Farmer In The Sky

Or maybe Double Star

Dune?

Grey Lensman, perhaps?

No, the only possible choice is....

Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers!

sweetfreak 01-27-2005 08:08 PM

Okay, go ahead and smack me for this one if you wanna...but I gotta say

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for two reasons:

1. It's a "guide" for all lonely space travellers.
2. It's logically sound. ;)

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 08:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by silenus
Ringworld

No, wait......Farmer In The Sky

Or maybe Double Star

Dune?

Grey Lensman, perhaps?

No, the only possible choice is....

Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers!

I dunno about Heinlein stories. They are so embarassingly sexist, that I kinda want to hide him in my "guilty pleasures" section, not wave him about. Stranger in a Strange Land was revolutionary and all that, but... really?

Dune is perfect - I could vote for that.

I've never been able to finish a Larry Niven book, so I can't say anything about Mote or Ringworld. Of course, the last time I tried to read him was in 7th grade, so maybe I should give him another chance, cos I'm a big softie and all that.

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 01-27-2005 08:52 PM

I think Heinlein's The Rolling Stones would be a fine choice.

And R.A.H. does not require apology, because he isn't sexist!

His female characters aren't weak, they're strong! The kind of women most men would respect & admire. They may follow "traditional" roles, but they're gutsy as hell, & I'd rather read about one of the mothers Heinlein wrote about than some allegedly modern woman, who may be in a profession, but turns into a sniveling whiner when the going gets tough.

sweetfreak 01-27-2005 09:02 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
And R.A.H. does not require apology, because he isn't sexist!

His female characters aren't weak, they're strong! The kind of women most men would respect & admire. They may follow "traditional" roles, but they're gutsy as hell, & I'd rather read about one of the mothers Heinlein wrote about than some allegedly modern woman, who may be in a profession, but turns into a sniveling whiner when the going gets tough.

Female, and love R.A.H.
And...just for the record...what woman in her right mind would NOT want to stay at home while the man goes off to toil the day away? Lemme just prop my feet up, pop a weepy love story into the DVD, and gorge myself on chocolates. Ahhhh...sweet, sweet power! :p

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 09:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sweetfreak
Female, and love R.A.H.
And...just for the record...what woman in her right mind would NOT want to stay at home while the man goes off to toil the day away? Lemme just prop my feet up, pop a weepy love story into the DVD, and gorge myself on chocolates. Ahhhh...sweet, sweet power! :p

Heh. But Heinlein's women aren't really strong women, they are average men in well-endowed women's bodies, as far as characterization goes. I realize that this is the best he could do, and I appreciate his efforts, but I can only read the books that don't have women as central figures. It's just too distracting otherwise. YMMV and IMO, of course.

Sorry for the hijack... of my own thread...

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 01-27-2005 09:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sweetfreak
Female, and love R.A.H.
And...just for the record...what woman in her right mind would NOT want to stay at home while the man goes off to toil the day away? Lemme just prop my feet up, pop a weepy love story into the DVD, and gorge myself on chocolates. Ahhhh...sweet, sweet power! :p

If you tried that stuff with Grandma Hazel Meade around, she'd kick your ass. :D

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 01-27-2005 09:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SusanStoHelit
Heh. But Heinlein's women aren't really strong women, they are average men in well-endowed women's bodies, as far as characterization goes. I realize that this is the best he could do, and I appreciate his efforts, but I can only read the books that don't have women as central figures. It's just too distracting otherwise. YMMV and IMO, of course.

Sorry for the hijack... of my own thread...


BULL!

Heinlein's women were classic Frontier Women. Read a little history of the American West & you'll find many that could & probably were models for the characters.

silenus 01-27-2005 09:15 PM

If I for one minute thought Julia Roberts had named her daughter Hazel after RAH's wonderwoman, I'd stop giving her so much flak about the choice! :D


But there is no excuse for Phineas!

Tangent 01-27-2005 09:16 PM

Childhood's End

Qadgop the Mercotan 01-27-2005 09:23 PM

I'm on board with Mote and Dune!

Some of my candidates:

Rendezvous with Rama by A. C. Clarke

A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge

Way Station by Clifford Simak (I really wish his other works were of this book's calibre!)

The Disposessed by Ursula LeGuin

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Gateway by Fred Pohl

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 09:34 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor
BULL!

Heinlein's women were classic Frontier Women. Read a little history of the American West & you'll find many that could & probably were models for the characters.

I have read plenty of American Western history, and I also have first hand experience in female thought (being a Genuine Female myself), and no woman would be able to shrug off a gang rape (Friday) or the abandonment by her husband for a younger woman (to Sail Beyond the Sunset) within a paragraph. Maybe I'm just a big old prude, but the incest and orgies really tend to get in the way of the stories. RAH was just a dirty old man.

AHunter3 01-27-2005 09:50 PM

I will put forth the proverbial dark horse and nominate Alan E. Nourse's The Mercy Men.

Sam Stone 01-27-2005 11:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SusanStoHelit
I have read plenty of American Western history, and I also have first hand experience in female thought (being a Genuine Female myself), and no woman would be able to shrug off a gang rape (Friday) or the abandonment by her husband for a younger woman (to Sail Beyond the Sunset) within a paragraph. Maybe I'm just a big old prude, but the incest and orgies really tend to get in the way of the stories. RAH was just a dirty old man.

You're reading the wrong Heinlein. His later stuff is vastly inferior to his early books. If you want to read Heinlein books with strong female figures, try Citizen of the Galaxy, which depicts a very strong matriarchal society. Or many of his juveniles, in which the female character is often more mature and level-headed than the protagonist. You do, however, have to remember that these books were written mostly in the 1950's, and reflect those stereotypes (for example, in Have Space Suit - Will Travel, the protagonist's mother is a brilliant scientist - but she gave up her career to stay home and have a child, and is now a housewife).

Tapioca Dextrin 01-27-2005 11:25 PM

It's a tough call, but I'd go with Player of Games by Iain M Banks.
  • It's well written with intersting characters
  • It's accessible to folks who don't like SF
  • The plot requires lots of futuristic but belieable science
  • It's fun

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 11:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sam Stone
You're reading the wrong Heinlein. His later stuff is vastly inferior to his early books. If you want to read Heinlein books with strong female figures, try Citizen of the Galaxy, which depicts a very strong matriarchal society. Or many of his juveniles, in which the female character is often more mature and level-headed than the protagonist. You do, however, have to remember that these books were written mostly in the 1950's, and reflect those stereotypes (for example, in Have Space Suit - Will Travel, the protagonist's mother is a brilliant scientist - but she gave up her career to stay home and have a child, and is now a housewife).

First part: I read five of his books, and that is more of a chance than I would give most authors. I dunno, if I run out of new books to read, I'll go back and give him another try.

I don't mind the women-in-traditional roles thing much - most stories from the "golden age of sf" (ie the 50's) have that to some extent, and it has been a male-dominated field. What makes me mad (and I'll admit that I am probably overreacting) is that when Heinlein wants to write a strong, positive, and sympathetic female character, he makes her act just like a man, like it's the ultimate compliment, something that every woman should strive to do and be. It is gender equality of sorts, but it misses the point entirerly.

That said, I did enjoy Double Star enough to buy my own copy, so maybe I shouldn't be talking too loudly.

silenus 01-27-2005 11:38 PM

The male chauvinist pig in me could have a field day here.....

Heinlein's early works are some of the most influential SF ever written. Not necessarily influential on other authors...but they hooked more of us on SF than any other author. And that effect can never be understated.

Cat Whisperer 01-27-2005 11:42 PM

My vote is for World of Null-A by A. E. van Vogt (and not just because he was Canadian, either).
I read it when I was a callow youth, and it expanded my mind into thinking of things I had never thought of before.

Quote:

Science is organized, systemized wish-fulfillment, and Van Vogt's stories are wish-fulfillments treated as if they were sciences.
{From this site.}

Exapno Mapcase 01-27-2005 11:45 PM

It depends a lot on who your aiming this at. There's a lot of books which people argue, even on these boards, aren't science fiction, because, you know, they aren't like Star Trek.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Man in the High Castle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Flowers for Algernon, Fahrenheit 451, Replay, A Clockwork Orange.

That puts them in a slightly different place than Dune and The Left Hand of Darkness, two very fine novels under any circumstances but both set on other planets so that they look a little more like SF.

What about newer novels. You could try epics like Dan Simmon's Hyperion or Ilium. Neal Stephenson has been writing novels that are sf in style and subject but not form, or is that form but not subject. Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle read like mainstream but have the underlying sensibility of sf. Connie Willis I haven't read lately, but everybody says that her Domesday Book is fat and full of character. Or something near-futurey like Distraction by Bruce Sterling.

Or we could go odd and talk about less famous writers like Geoff Ryman who have already slipped over into the mainstream in some ways, as with Was and The Child Garden. Or Lucius Shepherd and Life During Wartime. Sean Stewart with Mockingbird. Maureen McHugh and China Mountain Zhang. James Morrow, Towing Jehovah.

Or just forget the whole thing and hand over the latest Harry Potter.

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 11:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by silenus
The male chauvinist pig in me could have a field day here.....

Heinlein's early works are some of the most influential SF ever written. Not necessarily influential on other authors...but they hooked more of us on SF than any other author. And that effect can never be understated.

Yes, but do you really want him representing the genre, when there are equally talented authors out there whose books don't undermine the last 50 years of work toward gender quality?

SusanStoHelit 01-27-2005 11:51 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
Or just forget the whole thing and hand over the latest Harry Potter.

Blasphemer! I'll just pretend I didn't read that.

Sam Stone 01-27-2005 11:52 PM

Heinlein was, by far the most influential science fiction author. Not just in science fiction, but society at large. Heinlein was a vastly influential American, period. I believe he is one of a handful of people responsible for the growth of Libertarianism as a philosophy. He pushed an awful lot of kids towards science and engineering. During the Apollo era, Heinlein was a very popular figure amongst NASA types, and was a guest commentator for one of the networks for Apollo 11. Stranger in a Strange Land has been credited with having helped shape the '60's era counterculture and 'free love' movement. He was also politically active, writing non-fiction and giving testimony to Congress. Starship Troopers was required reading at the Annapolis Naval Academy.

How many other authors in any field of literature have had that kind of influence?

silenus 01-27-2005 11:53 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SusanStoHelit
Yes, but do you really want him representing the genre, when there are equally talented authors out there whose books don't undermine the last 50 years of work toward gender quality?

Yes. He is that good.

K364 01-27-2005 11:56 PM

How about "Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke.

Beautiful, elegant writing. Extraordinary vision. The novel seems to be about First Contact and LGM; but ends up showing us that we know as much about Life, The Universe, and Everything as a slug knows about the world beyond his puddle.

bump 01-28-2005 12:23 AM

I'd have to say The Mote in God's Eye as the quintessential science fiction novel.

It's a roaring mix of Horatio Hornblower in space, entertaining characters, fantastic discoveries, heroism, deception, and a really good first contact story all in one book.

Beyond that, Gateway, Dune, and Neuromancer are my next choices. Even though Neuromancer is a cyberpunk novel, it's got all the right parts- good characters, science fictional setting to bring out conflicts, good story, good writing, etc...

WaryEri 01-28-2005 01:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Tangent
Childhood's End

Seconded. Well, thirded, actually, since K364 has also proposed it.

I must admit, I've read very little Heinlein, and that little was a long time ago. Still, Childhood's End was one of those books that sort of tinted the world for a while after I'd finished it, and it's a rare book that does so for me.

Revedge 01-28-2005 01:12 AM

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Fahrenheit 451

Childhood's End

Canticle for Liebowitz

Forever War

Gateway

Foundation

Nightfall and Other Stories

The Illustrated Man

LavenderBlue 01-28-2005 01:20 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by RealityChuck
If you're talking traditional literary quality, it'll be Ursula K. LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness.

I second that nomination and add The Dispossed, her other great novel.

Heinlein's best novel is The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

LordVor 01-28-2005 01:33 AM

Taking the thread title into a different direction, I'd like to nominate Fallen Angels by Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes as the quintessential book about science fiction.

BrainGlutton 01-28-2005 01:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sweetfreak
Female, and love R.A.H.
And...just for the record...what woman in her right mind would NOT want to stay at home while the man goes off to toil the day away? Lemme just prop my feet up, pop a weepy love story into the DVD, and gorge myself on chocolates. Ahhhh...sweet, sweet power! :p

OK, but the moment I get home we gotta bang like bunnies, regardless of whether either of us is in the mood or not, because Heinlein women are like that, and so are practically all men real or fictional! :)

Nightime 01-28-2005 01:39 AM

Quote:

Yes, but do you really want him representing the genre, when there are equally talented authors out there whose books don't undermine the last 50 years of work toward gender quality?

You're definitely reading the wrong Heinlein books.

I should know. The Cat Who Walked Through Walls is the only book I have ever read halfway through and then quit.

Then I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Double Star, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, and a few others. And they were fantastic.


Still, in the end I agree with you on the Foundation series. Asimov is the master.

Also, the Elijah Baley novels should be mentioned. They're right up at the top of the list too.

armedmonkey 01-28-2005 03:37 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by SusanStoHelit
We need to decide on a book that can be our flagship to the literary universe, one that we can proudly point to when people say, "science fiction? Isn't that, like, robots 'nd stuff?"

It's this sentence that makes me recommend, hands down, Dune.

If you think about it, Dune isn't really a sci fi novel at all. It's a medieval drama that just happens to be set thousands of years from now. My sister can't (or rather couldn't) stand sci fi, yet I bought her the book for her birthday and convinced her to read it.

She loved it.

The interplay between Houses Atreidedes, Harkonen, and Corrino, the Bene Gessuret, the Spacing Guild...... Even if you take the sci fi elements out of it, it's still one Hell of an epic*. If you want to introduce somebody to Sci Fi, tell them to read Dune, and let them develop a small immunity to space travel and future technology. After that, you can start telling them about alternate views of the world, such as Ursala K. Le Guin. Or, possibly, far history like the Foundation series.

Just remember, if they were technophiles the would already be into sci fi. Start with Dune, see what they like about it, and go from there.



*But don't let them read the sequels to Dune. That my kill any ember of interest they had. And if you see a copy of God Emperor of Dune in their place, steal it and tell them dingoes ate it.

Mycroft Holmes 01-28-2005 06:42 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Considering that I grew up in a time where everyone was afraid of the bomb (I remember having nightmares as a kid, that looked just like the dream Sarah Conner has in Terminator 2), this is my personal pick for the quintessential Science Fiction novel (at least for my generation). Don't go telling me it's not SF, because it is!

Also, who can resist the humour of a shopping list being a sacred relic. "Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels--bring home for Emma." indeed.

sweetfreak 01-28-2005 07:38 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
OK, but the moment I get home we gotta bang like bunnies, regardless of whether either of us is in the mood or not, because Heinlein women are like that, and so are practically all men real or fictional! :)

WOOOOO HOOOOOOO!
Errrr...I meant...not tonight, honey, I gotta headache. :p

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 01-28-2005 08:20 AM

Ingathering: The Complete People Stories of Zenna Henderson is well worth mentioning, as it touches your heart whilst feeding your head.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...glance&s=books

Buy it, dammit! :)

Khadaji 01-28-2005 08:23 AM

For me it would be Dune. But a close second would Zelazny's Lord Of Light.

Frank 01-28-2005 09:29 AM

Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner. A close second would be the aforementioned Doomsday Book.

Cat Whisperer 01-28-2005 10:24 AM

Please allow me to register a dissention for A Canticle for Liebowitz. I had heard so much about it, so I finally read it. Only my steely determination got me through it. What a pile o' crap. I wouldn't be starting non-SF readers on Dune, either. While a great book, it's a helluva tough read, too.

G.B.H. Hornswoggler 01-28-2005 10:40 AM

Where's the love for Ralph 124C41+? What a shameful omission...

But, more seriously, I'd probably go with The Stars My Destination. It still feels amazingly modern, fifty years later, and it's a great showcase for all of the things SF can do well -- new societies, intruiging ideas, good characterization, literary pyrotechnics -- and wraps that all up in a compelling plot that perfectly fills what now looks like a quite short book.

Dune is an excellent novel, but I wouldn't recommend it for precisely the reasons some others have been reccommending it -- it doesn't need to be SF, and the SF furniture is mostly maguffins or silly. (For a book that supposedly launched a thousand ecologists, it's remarkably dumb on its "one climate per planet" thinking, which is straight out of Planet Stories.)

The Mote in God's Eye is also a good book, but I wonder if it would appeal to non-SF readers -- maybe it could be a gateway drug for readers of Patrick O'Brian, though. (It's also the second-best Heinlein novel not written by Heinlein, after Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage.)

Evil Captor 01-28-2005 01:36 PM

I don't think there is any such animal as "the quintessential science fiction novel." Unlike most genres, science fiction is tremendously open-ended -- it can be about almost anything, can deal with it in almost any way and as a result there's no single SF novel that can possibly cover enough ground to typify the genre.

If you'll look at the nominees so far, you'll see a tremendous range of styles and themes. And that's not touching on the weird stuff that came out up to the 60s when a lot of SF writers were just blowing smoke any way that looked good, so you had stories like 'The Girl In The Golden Atom' which were practically scientifically illterate, but were presented as SF.

Wilson 01-28-2005 02:43 PM

For a good introduction to a new reader of Science Fiction, I like to recommend Dhalgren.



Ahh I slay me.

There are some great recommendations above, but one classic of the genre that I didn't see mention is Earth Abides. I guess you could say that it's a little too specific in its subject matter to be a perfect representative of the whole of SF (not that any book could be all that), but it's easily accessible, a great read, and it stays with you.

For a representative Heinlein, I like to recommend The Door into Summer. Great story, not too political, interesting time travel concepts. And one of Heinlein's greatest characters ever (I'm referring to Pete, of course!).

chefjef 01-28-2005 03:09 PM

cool. I might have to check out Dhalgren -- I'm just a little bored with the books I"ve been reading so I might check out the sci-fi thing.

Frank 01-28-2005 04:18 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by chefjef
cool. I might have to check out Dhalgren -- I'm just a little bored with the books I"ve been reading so I might check out the sci-fi thing.

Wilson was making a funny. Mind you, it's a good book, well worth the effort it will take to read it, but for an intro to science fiction, I'd read any of the other books mentioned here before that one.

silenus 01-28-2005 04:31 PM

chefjef, let me offer an alternative to Dhalgren...sticking needles into your eyes. It would hurt less. Dhalgren is totally unreadable. YMMV.

Knorf 01-28-2005 04:34 PM

More unusual:

Brian Aldiss: Non-stop
Larry Niven: A Gift from Earth
Kim Stanley Robinson: Icehenge

Commonly known:

Isaac Asimov: The Gods Themselves
Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451
Orson Scott CardL Ender's Game
Arthur C. Clarke: Rendezvous with Rama
Robert Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Frank Herbert: Dune
Niven/Pournelle: Mote in God's Eye
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars

And we didn't make room for Fantasy, but here I want put in a BIG plug for:

C. S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces

SusanStoHelit 01-28-2005 04:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Khadaji
a close second would Zelazny's Lord Of Light.

Why? I struggled through half of that book, but I didn't see the sf elements, and I don't care enough about Hinduism for the mystical stuff to interest me. That book is dense, man.

I didn't like A Canticle for Liebowitz much (I made it a third of the way through), but even if you do like it you must admit that it's not exactly an accessible book, right?

An addendum to the OP: most of you are doing this, but please include your reasons for suggesting a book and a short description if it isn't well-known. Thanks!

For something a bit more modern, what about Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow? It is about a cross-species misunderstanding that leads to personal tragedy for a Catholic priest. It is also a great example of something sf does better than any other genre: it puts a human problem, institution, or characteristic in an exotic situation to allow us to view it with more objectivity and insight.

Larry Borgia 01-28-2005 04:57 PM

The thing is, science fiction is such a multi-faceted genre I'd be hard pressed to think of a single book or author that is the quintessence of every aspect. That being said here are a few candidates.

For traditional hard sf--Arthur C. Clarke, Rendevous with Rama, or any of his early stuff.

For world spanning space opera--Foundation, with Dune a close second.
(I'd also nominate Hyperion, but that may be to recent to qualify as quintessential.)

For military sf--Starship Troopers

To show off science fiction's literary potential--The Book of the New Sun (I know it's a series, but I think of it as a single book.

For experimental sf that annoys purists--anything by Philip K. Dick.

For old school scientifiction--The Martian tales

For Cyberpunk--Snow Crash


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