Saturday, January 23, 2016

David Hartwell, a true original - and who are "forgotten" great SF authors?

David G. Hartwell passed on suddenly, at age 74, after a tragic fall caused unstoppable cerebral bleeding. One of the greatest editors in literature, not just science fiction, he staunchly and effectively promoted the genre of boldness and exploration. 

I've known very few members of our species with the breadth and depth of mind and heart that this unique person brought to our planet, interested in absolutely everything, and completely unabashed. He was - in every positive sense - a leading citizen of our commonwealth of wonder.

David's tenure as head of Timescape Books was a golden era in Science Fiction.  His annual best-of series kept alive a spirited side to the genre, at a time when many others pushed dolorous tales of omphaloskepsis, ennui and despair.  With his wife - Kathryn Cramer - David collated The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF and, more recently, The Hard SF Renaissance, volumes now taught widely in universities, standing up for the value of a literature focused on exploring processes of change, as well as tomorrow's undiscovered realm.

Hartwell was nominated for the Hugo Award forty-one times, nineteen in the category of Best Professional Editor and Best Editor Long Form, winning in 2006, 2008 and 2009, and twenty-two times as editor/publisher of The New York Review of Science Fiction. Hartwell was a Senior Editor at Tor Books, where he worked for over thirty years. "David Hartwell restored our faith in the power of science fiction," writes Charlie Jane Anders in a tribute on io9.

Often a visitor to our California home, here he is snapped visiting me and Professor Roger Berkowitz during my recent visiting position at Bard College. David and I had been working closely with Stephen Potts on an anthology of essays and stories about what civilization may become, when filled with transparency and light. Coincidentally given David's green light this very week - Chasing Shadows: Visions of our Coming Transparent World may be one of his final books. 

How I'd rather have collaborated many times more!

As a guardedly contingent agnostic, I acknowledge some images of deity that might be worthy of respect. In which case, I'd ask - call it pray - that David be given his choice of next-worlds, from among those he helped introduce to millions of living minds. Pondering that is one way I take a bit of solace.

An unusual fellow who designed his own life path. An original and almost the hardest working editor I ever knew, excluding only my Dad -- a fatherly role he played for many rising authors. 

Above all, farewell my friend.

== Forgotten Science Fiction authors? ==

A fun little conversation-starter? On Quora I was asked to name "forgotten" Sci Fi authors.  Other respondents were citing Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, Ursula Le Guin, Lester del Rey, A.E. VanVogt, Fritz Lieber, Clifford Simak, Harlan Ellison and Theodore Sturgeon. Well, of course Zelazny and Farmer and Ursula and those others should never be forgotten.  But would any reasonably well-read person say they are?  Or Walter Miller or Iain Banks?  No, not yet on any such list!  And I hope never.

 For my own answer I dug deeper. From Robert Sheckley and Alice Sheldon (James Tiptree Jr.), William Tenn and the zany-brilliant Avram Davidson -- among the greatest of all short story writers -- all the way to lamented classics like John Boyd's "The Last Starship From Earth."  

If you like adventure, then H. Beam Piper and William Burkett. Andre Norton!!! Richard C. Meredith!! Keith Laumer, Erik Frank Russell and Christopher Anvil and Gordon Dickson. Frederick Brown. Bob Shaw. 

Thoughtful explorers: Philip Wylie. Charles Sheffield. James Blish! Murray Leinster and John Varley. Anthony Boucher. And likewise the marvelously unique-voiced R. A. Lafferty and Cordwainer Smith. Panshen and Pangborn and Biggle and Kuttner, Wolfe and Gunn. Zenna Henderson and Randall Garrett. Jack Vance for plausible fantasy (and Marian Zimmer Bradley and Michael Moorcock - though never quite my cuppatea). Lest we forget Weinbaum, White and Stewart. And Hal Clement for the really sciencey-sciencey stuff, long before The Martian.

Oh, there are bigger names who we should keep refreshing so any danger of faulty memory is swiftly canceled. Fred Pohl is not forgotten but he was the greatest true-idea-explorer SF author and Poul Anderson was the best, purest storyteller. (Just sayin'.) Bob Silverberg could rouse any soul, as does Nan Kress. And Joanna Russ slapped us awake, as did Harlan Ellison and Chip Delany and Thomas Disch and Fritz Leiber. A.E. Van Vogt was (philosophically) the L. Ron Hubbard of Sci Fi authors who could write - still I liked the Rull series (just beware of his Cardian tendency to worship demigods). Phil Dick will keep getting movies, so no worries there.  And dear Anne McCaffrey will get her dragons onscreen. So let's get back to names that are in danger.

Some younger ones who are fading from prominence way too soon. Octavia Butler is safely ensconced in university lit classes.  Alas, the same cannot be said for Linda Nagata, Joan Sloncziewski, Catherine Asaro, Lisa Goldstein, K.W. Jeter, Donald Kingsbury, Lee Killough. ... but if we start down this road we will be up all night and I refer you below, to what will be a lively tsunami of suggestions by others, in the comments thread.

But oh, is it possible some young 'uns don't know Alfred Bester and John Brunner? Really?  They scared the bejezus out of every other living SF author, for a decade each. Gotta watch out for them killer "B's".

Late adds: Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers. And yes, my list was anglophobic. Sorry.  Look up Tetsu Yano. For starters.  Another all-nighter, but suggestions welcome.

One of you chimed in with Burgess, Goulart, Chandler, Budrys & Ballard. Simak & Knight. Forehead smack! Another of you: Alan E. Nourse, Brian Aldiss, Olaf Stapledon, E.E. 'Doc' Smith, James Inglis, Fred Hoyle. Absolutely! Except… James Inglis? Let me chime in Kate Wilhelm, Ben Bova and Charles L. Harness.

Dang there's bunches of us sci fi authors, after all. Will the youngest of you put me on such a list, someday?

== Elsewhere in Science Fiction  ==

Is Science Fiction emerging from the ghetto? In recent years, Harpers, The New Yorker and Atlantic – who used to cyclically do loathsome hit-pieces against SF, frantically libeling our field every few years – have instead run laudatory and friendly appraisals, as a new generation, less prissy and more open to a universe of ideas, appears to be stepping up, taking over the New York salons.  

And now – on NPR’s site – Jason Sheehan reviews Harlan Ellison’s latest short story collection, Can & Can'tankerous, calling Harlan: 

“…America's weird uncle. He's the angry, elderly cousin at the table — the one who, for weeks before dinner, everyone asks about. Is he coming this year? Is Harlan gonna be there?  They ask because they're worried; Harlan is always starting something. But they'd also be sad if he wasn't there.” 

How interesting. Not science fiction's weird uncle but America's. Perhaps, indeed, we are rounding a corner.

Press and culture attention is swinging to Hard SF as in this NPR piece:  "It is very well documented that people who work for NASA have been inspired by science fiction," says Calla Cofield of "And there's always a back-and-forth, you know, between science fiction and reality. All of this is about dreaming about what's going on off the surface of the Earth."

And science fiction appeared on President Obama's vacation reading list...with a novel that I highly recommend, The Three Body Problem, by Liu Cixin, translated brilliantly by Ken Liu.  (With my name conveniently right there - if appropriately in small letters (!) - on the cover.)

== And Finally... ==

Explore the history of Science Fiction with the just-released Science Fiction Trading Cards, from Walter Day, featuring authors such as H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, Samuel Delaney, Nancy Kress, and Gregory Benford.

Oh, and Ariel Waldman's fun new book -  What's It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who've Been There  - features 60 short vignettes by astronauts (past & present) about weird, unusual, embarrassing, funny and awe-inspiring moments in space.


Thomas Pluck said...

Agree completely on Poul Anderson. Recently read one of his early fantasy novels, The Broken Sword, and it read as well if not better than some recent, well-reviewed "grimdark" fantasy I've read, and was certainly grim and dark enough. Written in 1954.
Tiptree has always been a favorite, her stories stay with you. Forever.

Jim Collins said...

I guess Philip K Dick might be less forgotten now that The Man in the High Castle is being filmed. What about Alfred Bester, Stanislaw Lem, Chip Delany, AE Van Vogt?

Alfred Differ said...

@Daniel Duffy: (from previous thread)

Beware of those of us atheists who believe in a mortal soul (Self) because we CAN manage the free will trick. Self is obviously immaterial. However, one must be careful to avoid the trap associated with Plato's ideals. There is no need to assume immortality, perfection, and all the related nonsense.

@thread topic:

How can an author be forgotten if they've literally expanded the language we use to perceive complex abstractions? They live on through their 'intellectual' children, do they not? 8)

Paul SB said...

David Hartwell is a true loss! It is a rare editor today who actually edits anything. These days editors pretty much just send manuscripts to cadres of paid readers, who tell them whether they think a book is worth publishing. When rarely I indulge in one of those "If I won the lottery" fantasies, my mind flies to the idea of creating a publishing company, one that would not only publish people who are already famous, but act as a forum for new, unknown talent (and not just for novels - creativity all sorts needs audiences). With a real, experienced editor to help newbies learn the ropes, that would be possible (assuming I won that lottery), but David Hartwell's generation of true editors is fading into the sunset.

David Brin said...

List updated a little. Thanks.

Brian said...

I am always spreading the word about Jack Vance. His work is pretty unique I believe. Also Hal Clement had a special gift.

Anonymous said...

Nice reading list of the forgotten. The names I don't recognize are now on a find and read list. I'll add another few entries James Biggle Jr, Fritz Leiber and Octavia Butler.

David Brin said...

Revising as we go, thanks!

Tim H. said...

Zenna Henderson is worth remembering, "Pilgrimage" and "Holding Wonder" were both fun to read.

locumranch said...

Too many to number, my constant companions from adolescence until the Shared World Apocalypse of the late 1980s, then sporadically.

All that you've named plus:
Ballard, Bellamy, Blish, Brunner, Burdrys, Burgess, Chaulker, Chandler, Compton, Coney, Dahl, Forester, Goulart, Gunn, Harrison, Holt, Holdstock, Huxley, Kapp, Knight, Kuttner, Lafferty, LeGuin, Lovecraft, Malzberg, Moore, Poe, Sheckley, Sturgeon, Vonnegut, Weinbaum, White, Wolfe.

Plenty of talented women: Cooper, Killough, McCaffrey, Sargent, Stewart, Willis.

Scifi: The past golden; the present passable; and the future, repetitious & bleak.


Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Dr Brin

I would hope that you don't make the "Forgotten" list!

One of the problems with the older books is that they only exist as books - and they are NOT being printed
It would be really nice - and they would be more likely to be creating new fans - if all of these writers and books were available electronically

To Locum
It would be really strange and worrying if there were as many good active writers working now as there were over the last hundred years - the current crop will contain some gems but we should expect a much longer time period to contain more

Dave Bowen said...

Sir, I'm in for a baker's dozen, and my opinion as to why...

Olaf Stapledon (For helping lay the foundation)
A.E. Van Vogt (For "Slan" and many others)
Alexei Panshin (For making weird seem normal)
Edgar Pangborn (For "Davy")
Julian May (For her amazing serial run beginning with "The Many Colored Land")
Jack Chalker (For the "Well World" saga, at least)
James Tiptree, Jr./Alice B. Sheldon (For her heart-rending "Brightness Falls From the Air")
Alfred Bester (For showing us how good SF could be)
Vernor Vinge (For seeing futures yet to come)
John Varley (For "Titan," "Demon" and "Wizard")
John Crowley (For "Little, Big)
H.Beam Piper (For "Little Fuzzy")
Roger Zelazny (For "Lord of Light," even more than the rest)

Hmm, I have a lot of re-reading to do.

Sadly, I suspect even some of the best-known above and on your list are indeed trending toward forgotten. Between Amazon and Project Gutenberg the issue of being out of print may become less fatal, but there's still the monumental task of carrying the torch of memory in the face of a seemingly ever-dwindling human attention span. It may be up to those of us who remember and care for these treasures to educate and remind others as often as we can.

David Brin said...

Hush Duncan. He's completely and totally and unalloyedly.... right... this time.

Note guys I have amended the blog with many of your suggestions.

Jumper said...

If anyone missed "Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler, you are in for a good read. It is, I think, her best, and though part of a series, can be read as a stand-alone book.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I feel as if somebody should do some sort of timeline of "Good SF"
I hate the idea that there was a golden age and that we are now in an era of lesser SF,

Especially as some of the authors on your list – like Vinge and Varley – are still in business

dolphintornsea said...

Mark Clifton, Walter M. Miller, Katherine MacLean (and for that matter, Damon Knight), Edmond Hamilton, Cyril Kornbluth, for goodness' sake!

Ward Moore, James Blish, Gordon R. Dickson, Carol Emshwiller, Algis Budrys ...

I'm not even done with the 50s yet, so I'll just stop.

Jumper said...

Off topic, meet some shadowy plutocrats.

Dragisa Milakovic said...

What about The Strugatsky brothers - Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
Roadside Picnic, only one of their books still printed on english and last time 4 years ago. 

Jon S. said...

Our Host says, "He's completely and totally and unalloyedly.... right... this time."

Except his pessimistic last line. The "Golden Age" contained so many wonders, so many marvels - and so, so very much utter crap. Sturgeon's Law, after all. And the works I see today aren't nearly so bleak as he paints (unless you're looking at the paperback rack at the grocery store, where I will freely concede that what passes for "SF" there is almost entirely Star Wars tie-ins and macho post-apocalypse fantasies).

I hold that the Golden Age is yet to be, and I'm looking forward to what constitutes "science fiction" when interplanetary spaceflight becomes routine.

Jumper said...

Given that many on the "forgotten" list excelled in the short story form, I noticed Wikipedia needs filling in on Brin's collection "Tomorrow Happens" (2003). Perhaps I need to buy this.

Dave Bowen said...

We tread an interesting line here between Forgotten and Under-Appreciated. As Duncan has pointed out Vernor Vinge and John Varley are still writing, though Vinge's output (quite naturally) has slowed to a relative trickle. As to Mr. Varley, who once occupied a rock-solid place on my highly unofficial personal Top Ten authors list, I've found I've enjoyed his most recent works much less than his earlier efforts.

The signal-to-noise ratio in the digital world is demonstratively way out of balance, favoring noise. In addition to my previously posited problem of getting the attention of prospective readers, much of the U.S. populace seems to be getting more-and-more deeply involved in becoming more-and-more self-absorbed. By observation; selfies, Twitter, SnapChat, Facebook, reflexive texting disease, etc.

Are we collectively retreating into a world where our reflection in our personal mirror is paramount? Am I participating - by posting this - as though I have content of true value to contribute while possibly simply wanting to "appear clever" in august company?

Paul SB said...

I repeat Sturgeon's Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other art forms. - Theodore Sturgeon, 1958 (from the Wikipedia page - I read this in the preface to a novel ages ago, but remembered the number as 94%. Memory is such a fickle thing!).

It seems to me that we might need a corollary for periodization. I can't give an opinion on what is out there on the market now due to lack of experience, but statements like "The past golden; the present passable; and the future, repetitious & bleak." are truly nihilistic. Yes, pessimism has its role. Some people hear the naysayers and are spurred onward to excellence buy them, to prove them wrong. But when it becomes the Gloom & Doom Chorus it turns into a dire self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sometimes I wonder if Dr. Brin encourages the guy just to keep his token curmudgeon on the blog...

locumranch said...

Perhaps I am be overly pessimistic about Scifi's future, a genre that has existed for almost 165 years, and (perhaps) I am confusing its golden past with my fleeting youth. yet the crisis facing the Scifi genre is more than existential angst.

First, there is the aforementioned Shared World Apocalypse (which only worsens) wherein individual creativity is pushed out in favour of collective repetition, conformity & comfort.

Second, there is the inevitable populist 'dumbening' best summed-up by the words of Philip J Fry ('Clever things make people feel stupid'; 'unexpected things make them feel scared'; and 'audiences don't want anything original. They wanna see the same thing they've seen a thousand times before').

And, third, there is the insurmountable obstacle of anachronism versus actuality, occurring when science's actuality relegates some fictional trope to the historical dustbin because of technical, social or cultural advancement, so audiences will no longer be amazed by Verne's '20,000 Leagues' (because submarines are old hat), will no longer be shocked by 'grokking' Heinlein's paean to free love (as it's a banality when compared to gay marriage & sex-ed) & will no longer dream of rescuing fair maidens on Barsoom (because Sexism & the Mars Rover).

Science Fiction dies as a genre, only to be replaced by either Fantasy (characterized by sassy, independent, ageless, ass-kicking, teenage vampires who discuss shoes & relationships for all eternity) and Contemporary Fiction (lawyers, peacekeepers & astronauts who protect our brave new conformity), as the likes of William Gibson now "write about the present as if it were the future".

Yet, there is one hope that could revitalise Science Fiction, free us from this endlessly oppressive progressive conformity & make *all things possible* for humanity again: Apocalypse.

Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you'll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Oh yes!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!

You're almost there, PSB. You've acknowledged that "90% of science fiction (and almost everything) is crap". Now, come the rest of the way, embrace the dark side, and ask why you (or any progressive) should settle for a 90% crap-filled future when we can 'Next It', move on & use the 'ashes of disaster' to grow the roses of success.

Jumper said...

Wanted: Token curmudgeon for blog comments. Must be well-read, ingenious, pessimistic, and able to come to a clear point.

I too have referenced Sturgeon's Law but I'll ask if science fiction has had the same number or visibility of reliable critics. When I pick up a paperback non-SF book I look at the fronts-piece section of who recommends this book. If it's all other authors it usually is the kiss of death. If it's all obscure newspapers, the same. If Publishers Weekly and/or Booklist speak well of it, my interest continues. Granted those last two also apply if it's an SF book as well. I'll respect the NY Times on either. Some of the minor newspapers that are trustworthy to a degree on non-SF books (Miami Herald) don't seem to review SF as much. I'm too out of touch with various fan sites to know about them.

Robert said...

Locu, your comments hold true for contemporary fiction as well. A contemporary fiction novel written 20 or 30 years ago (let alone from the 60s!) is very much out of date compared to contemporary literature today.

Fantasy fiction also goes out of date as people move away from the male uber-hero and into more diverse and interesting forms of fantasy fiction.

What is important about older fiction is the stories that are told and if they still hold true for today. A book about World War III written 40 years ago is still relevant insofar of the destructive nature of atomic weapons and how we must strive not to use them ever again for warfare. (And probably not for knocking asteroids away from the Earth. There are better methods available.)

Rob H.

Jumper said...

I mentioned SF as frontier adventure stories exploring the unknown. (I am temped to add "For boys!" Not that there's anything wrong with that.) There are also stories which examine a problem of the human condition by abstracting them into an alien viewpoint or circumstance.

Fail Burton said...

The best work I've read yet never heard anyone mention is The War for Eternity (1983) and The Black Ship (1985) by Christopher Rowley. They are really one novel.

David Brin said...

Jon S,,, did you catch the lovely moment in SERENITY when Wash (the pilot) dismisses any talk of “aliens” as “silly sci fi stuff”. His wife, Zoe says “Dear, you live on a spaceship.” To which he replies “So?” Loved that show!

Jumper, you can have all the stories in TOMORROW HAPPENS in my new collection INSISTENCE OF VISION, which I’ll be announcing next weekend!

I will allow myself a curmugeonly moment of my own. The fraction of SF devoted to sighing, moaning nostalgia, ennui and regret has risen steadily, encouraged by a couple of editors who have had a dreary-destructive influence on the genre. Add to this the utter laziness that helps propel the tsunami of dismally dumb post apoc and dystopic tales, which I examine and explain here: ...

(as opposed to SMART dystopia thought experiments, of which I wholly approve! Since they help to prevent themselves from coming true.)

Throw in the endlessly repetitious fantasy-elf-stuff and a majority of steam punk (though some of it is clever) and sure... this grouch deems the crap ratio to have risen above 90%. And yet...

... and yet there are cool things happening all over, and brilliant new writers. And the old literary mavens who despised sci fi are dying and getting out of the way. And I would not trade our time and place for any other, past or present... though maybe for a future that SF is helping to build.

Douglas Putnam said...

I've always had a fondness for the master of disaster, George Stewart. I read Earth Abides at least once a decade.

Kevin J. Maroney said...


Would you be interested in contributing--this, or something else-- to the Hartwell memorial volume that NYRSF is assembling? If so, drop me an e-mail at Thanks!

LarryHart said...

Does Charles L Harness count as a forgotten sci-fi writer?

All I know of his work is a short story I've read many times called "Probable Cause" which concerns itself with the Supreme Court ruling on a case involving police usage of clairvoyance to "wiretap" someone's thoughts. But a one-line description doesn't do it any more justice than it would to say "David Brin's Uplift books are about talking animals." The sheer amount of expertise and/or research into diverse subjects such as the death of Abraham Lincoln, historical reports of different psychic phenomena, the workings of the criminal justice system, and the Supreme Court itself make this story a masterpiece.

Anonymous said...

I think some of the best that are forgotten were far less prolific.
I'd add Christopher Hinz, John Steakley, and Janet Kagan to the list of excellent but forgotten.


TheMadLibrarian said...

I can think of a few that wrote only 1 or 2 books, then disappeared.
Not sure if you would count Tom Reamy as sci-fi, fantasy, or horror; one novel and a collection of short stories. If he had lived longer and kept up the quality, Stephen King would be watching his back trail nervously.
David R. Palmer only wrote 2, which have gone out of print, and the main one he is remembered for (Emergence) goes for crazy prices in the secondhand market.
Jo Clayton wrote more, but also disappeared into the mists.

Paul SB said...

Loci wrote:

You're almost there, PSB. You've acknowledged that "90% of science fiction (and almost everything) is crap". Now, come the rest of the way, embrace the dark side, and ask why you (or any progressive) should settle for a 90% crap-filled future when we can 'Next It', move on & use the 'ashes of disaster' to grow the roses of success.

To which I would reply: You funny, I keel you last!

90% of sci-fi, back in Sturgeon's day, was crap. 90% is today. 90% of pop music is crap, 90% was during my "fleeting youth." 90% of literature in the time of Shakespeare or Chaucer was crap. 90% of film today is crap, but so was 90% of film during hollywood's golden age. Why would anyone expect the future to be any better, or any worse? Whether the future is some straw version of 'progressivism' or a Malthusian makeover, the ratio of cream to crud will always be the same.

That is, unless there is only one single human being left alive. The stuff that I enthusiastically decry as garbage is great fun to the majority of people I know, and the things I love are decried as garbage by them. So when Loci is the last Man on Earth, he will finally get his wish. Nothing new will be made, he can burn what he hates and reread what he likes, and the world will be perfect in his eyes. I, on the other hand, will not succumb to that level of arrogance. One man's trash is another's treasure, so as long as they don't dump their trash on my lawn, I don't have a problem with that.

Paul Perkins said...

Melissa Scott is pretty much forgotten, but she wrote some good stuff. Trouble and Her Friends (1994) is a still surprisingly relevant cyberspace adventure, and she also wrote some very strange space operas with titles like "5/12 of Heaven".

Paul SB said...

Dave Bowen, you wrote:

Are we collectively retreating into a world where our reflection in our personal mirror is paramount? Am I participating - by posting this - as though I have content of true value to contribute while possibly simply wanting to "appear clever" in august company?

I share some off your angst about where things are going. As a high school teacher I am constantly dealing with adolescents who are willing to trade the next 50 years off their lives for a brief text message-induced dopamine squirt. However, your comment about the value of our comments made me think a little. What is the purpose of conversation? A blog is just a different format for conversation, after all. To appear clever in august company (I know you're not referring to me here) sounds really narcissistic, but it's not the only reason people come to this blog. I can only speak for others in the sense that I know a little bit about human nature, and am assuming that everyone here belongs to that species. For myself, i come here largely to participate in a kind of conversation I rarely get at work, and my work demands so much of my time that I don't have enough to maintain the more usually, face-to-face (or drink-to-drink) kind of friendships everyone else has. From a neurological standpoint, I get a little oxytocin squirt when someone on the blog gives me a little bit of positive attention - exactly the same reason so many kids in school can't keep their mouths shut. It's the mechanism that makes (most) humans social animals, and why solitary confinement is one of the worst things that can happen to someone.

So while everyone will judge the value of the content you post with their own, individual standards, just participating makes you part of the social glue that holds humans together and fulfills their need for community. That does not mean we should be handing out participation awards (I'm chuckling at the participation award in the movie "Inside Out"). But there is a balance to be struck between blathering anything just to get attention and being afraid to participate at all because we might think others will judge our contributions as worthless.

In my generation, anyone who took a "selfie" was seen as a loser because it meant they had no friends to take a picture with. The kids I work with find this concept completely alien. Make of that what you will.

Anonymous said...

TheMadLibrarian -

Palmer wrote a follow-up to Emergence that was published as a three-part serial in Analogue SF about 8-9 years ago called "Tracking" :)


Anonymous said...

Ugh. I should Google before I post.


July-August 2008
September 2008
October 2008


David Brin said...

MadLib: Tom Reamy was tragic. David Palmer’s 2nd novel wrecked his career for decades but he just did a sequel to Emergence. The problem was simple He could only manage 1st person present tense. PaulSB I will openly avow that the % of crap in most fields is rising! Probably to 9% or more. But the reasons are positive mostly:

1- A vastly larger portion of our populace can express themselves now and be “published” in murky, semi-pro ways. That means almost anyone with talent will get their shot. A vast improvement in human affairs! But it means the ratio of dreck - and quantity - reaches tsunami levels.

2- It takes less disciplined apprenticeship to get published now, which has hurt some talented writers who might have been better if they were forced to slave longer in the wilderness.

3- Science is advancing so far and fast that hard SF is intimidating to many writers, who shy away to realms less severely scrutinized, like fantasy. Likewise the sick attractions of cynicism are so much easier than grappling with the vastly intricate mix of hope and worry that any sane person sees around, in all directions.

Howard Miller said...

Please consider William Tedford for your list. His Timequest trilogy is one of the most memorable stories I've ever read.

Henry Troup said...

I quoted Mack Reynolds tonight. He was one of Campbell's stalwarts, and many years ago he worked out how to conduct many forms of larceny in a cashless society. It came to mind as the news covered Sweden's move to cashless.

Henry Troup said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Smurphs said...

I’ve been snowed in and down with flu all weekend, but what an amazing pair of posts & comments. Just some random thoughts, forgive me if my fever makes them more random that usual.

“DoNotCare-ian” Alfred, can I use that one?

Sturgeon’s Law. Since we are both sick, my wife and I have been binge-watching Netflix for the last three days, and deliberately looking for new stuff and taking the road less traveled. Found some good things, but many, many times we would get 5, 10 or 15 minutes into something until one of us finally turned to the other and said “This is crap”. Maybe not 90%, but close. Believe me, it was not just SF.

Catfish, re: the Pratchett quote, let me offer another from the Hogfather. It seems doubly apropos given the theme of yesterday’s discussion and tonight’s premiere:
“The truth is out there, the lies are all in your head”

Paul SB said “So when Loci is the last Man on Earth, he will finally get his wish. Nothing new will be made, he can burn what he hates and reread what he likes, and the world will be perfect in his eyes.”
Now, I am generally considered a very nice person, but I can only say, if that day comes, may he step on his glasses.

Finally, thanks for all the authors, I am surprised at the number I didn't know. Now on my ever-growing list.

David Brin said...

Welcome back, Smurphs... and get well, both of you!

Jim Houston said...

A good list, and just a few minor additions..
James Schmitz
John Collier (short stories)
Lovecraft (so unfilmable ;-)
Wilmar Shiras (a one-hit wonder!)

Tony Fisk said...

I threw in the James Inglis reference as a bit of a joke. 'Nightwatch' is a wonderful little short story with the scope of Stapledon. I rediscovered it a few years ago in the place I first found it: a 'Best of' Aldiss anthology. It was an Anniversary edition, with Aldiss remarking that, as far he was able to establish, Inglis only ever wrote that one story.

I might add some childhood favourites in here: Joan Clarke, Nicholas Fisk,
... Hugh Walters!

I am tempted to add John Wyndham and John Christopher, but they are still in print (although Christopher's non-Tripod work has languished)

Robert said...

Off on a Star Wars tangent for a second...

The webcomic Darths and Droids has an interesting take on the Dark Side (and Light) for the Force. Specifically? It will NOT forever dominate your destiny. It is a path, not a river. You can walk BACK DOWN THE PATH.

In short... the webcomic that came up with such delightful things as "Jar Jar, you're a Genius!" (makes sense in context) and an unlikable R2D2 just looked at the whole "dark/light" side and said "you can walk away from evil."

Admittedly, the comic is of a GM's RPG of a science fiction game he created in a universe where Lucas never created Star Wars... but it's still fun. :)

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, since you're the professional author here, I'll trust you to know your profession. As a general rule, each generation deplores the previous one and decries the following - a generalization confirmed by a century and a half of ethnography. But we do live in transformative times...

I just thought that if you made a portmanteau of Blog and Curmudgeon, you would get a Bludgeon, which is exactly what is wielded by trolls.

Smurrphs, damn, who needs drugs when you're around! I laughed so hard I popped my mandible, and might have cracked my zygomatics!

The Dark Side can keep their cookies. I'm having spaghetti with extra mushrooms.

matthew said...

I'd add Walter Jon Williams to the list. The "Praxis" trilogy is great space opera. "Hardwired" is core cyberpunk and "Metropolan" is thought-provoking provoking urban fantasy.

matthew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Creek said...

So glad that Clifford Simak got a couple mentions! I re-read CITY a couple of years ago, just read A CHOICE OF GODS a few weeks ago, and I'm eagerly awaiting more releases in his COMPLETE SHORT FICTION collections.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys
This business about the "Golden Era" of science fiction has caused me to get off my duff and do something

I have a decent collection of books - and I have previously put them on "Book Collector"

I have then removed a list of authors -
Gone through it removing people I can't remember at all and non science fiction writers

268 writers - some may be "pen names" - I will change them to the real names

I am now going through adding their birth dates
Computers are WONDERFUL!

What I want from you guys is some sort of prediction of what I will find and how it relates to a "Golden Age"

Jonathan Sills said...

You should also keep in mind that the Yoda of Darths & Droids was created by a then-nine-year-old girl (they've been playing this game, off and on, for a few years now - Sally's going to college), and he believes that the trees in the swamp he lives in hold the spirits of dead Jedi. He talks with them, too, especially the big one, Lord Elric Fluffypants.

Alfred Differ said...

@Smurfs: Enjoy, but keep an eye out for people who might get confused. For some who I've told, they thought I implied I didn't care about them. They couldn't make the mental separation between themselves and their beliefs. For them, I shifted to 'DoNotMind-ian'.

That should bother them more, but they don't see it.
Apathy is terribly sharp in skilled hands. 8)

Christian Augustin said...

I’m glad Edgar Pangborn made it to the list (and I would say not only for "Davy", he had so much more stories to tell, but I agree that Davy is one of my favorites). I was so chagrined to see that there are only so few of his books still in print. And he is nearly completely forgotten here in Germany (I have a lot of old paperbacks from the 80s or so) …

Dave Bowen said...

To Paul SB

Thanks for your feedback on the issues I sort of flung at the wall. You hit the nail on the head for me with, "To appear clever in august company....sounds really narcissistic, but it's not the only reason people come to this blog."

The issue I'm wrestling with is a severe case of LinkedIn addiction, where I'm in the dreaded state of being semi-famous, nearing 10,000 1st level connections and followers and an increasingly disturbing amount of influence. Some of these people are friends, some I've done business with, but many are simply the digital equivalent of baseball cards (faceball cards??) I've collected because they appear interesting or occupy significant positions in the creative, technical and entertainment fields.

My ostensible reason for this compulsive practice are business-related. These power-player connections, I hope will prove useful in the future.

It's my native suspicion about the underlying reasons which concern me. I wonder if I've succumbed to the same narcissism which I bold accuse vast swaths of society-at-large of slipping into? I've learned the hard way - in cases where I've managed to embed my head firmly in my nether region - extraction has been unpleasant.

I joined the conversation here because it seemed much more genuine and passionate than most group conversations I've encountered. SF is a deep and abiding passion I share.

Dr. Brin is - in my perceptual pantheon - a demigod wielding vast powers, so I approached with a measure of trepidation.

Of course I know better than the demigod bit. I'm sure David Brin puts his pants on the same way everyone else does; off a three-meter springboard, in the inverted pike position...entering the water with barely a ripple.

I know, another shot at clever, but it does create a challenging visual image.

Thanks for lending me some perspective.

Tacitus2 said...

Dave Bowen

I am sure Brin got a good laugh out of being called a demigod. It would fit the dynamic of his usual interaction with Loci (Loki the Trickster) but that would be the Full Odin, no demi.


Dave Bowen said...

To Tacitus2

Humor was intended, mixed with admiration and a tiny bit of hubris-by-proxy, 100% snark-free. If I am smote (smitten just doesn't work here) by a bolt from on high, so mote it be.

Tacitus2 said... you are also a Motie.


Dave Bowen said...

To Tacitus2

Is that really a thing? Some days it takes a lot just to get out of bed and face the day. I find my motievation where i can.

Jon S. said...

No, he's a Smotie. Count the arms. :-)

occam's comic said...

John Michael Greer is an interesting science fiction writer. Stars Reach is very interesting story set several hundred years form now. Twilights last Gleaming set in the near future is also a lot of fun. And Retrotopia which he is working on now is a good addition to utopian novels.

What distinguishes him from most other science fiction writers is that he takes a Burkean Conservative point of view. As someone who self identifies as a liberal it is a real pleasure to grapple with the ideas of a genuine burkean conservative rather than the bullshit that modern conservatives.

David Brin said...

DBowen. Thanks for the props… though now and then I put on sweatpants fireman style, just to be different. ;-) My intermediate levels of “fame” are highly convenient in some ways. I can go about my day unbothered…. bank-barber-gym-grocery. Yet, in many parts of the world I can find some loco… er, local… eager to pick me up at the airport. It is during election years that I wish I had more. There are things that need saying and these are the years when I get crowded out of formal media, back onto relying on my blog to say them. Speaking only to you fine, erudite and way-above-average non-demigods! ;-)

Yes to Walter Jon Williams

LarryHart said...


You're almost there, PSB. You've acknowledged that "90% of science fiction (and almost everything) is crap". Now, come the rest of the way, embrace the dark side, and ask why you (or any progressive) should settle for a 90% crap-filled future when we can 'Next It', move on & use the 'ashes of disaster' to grow the roses of success.

How can you seriously decry "progressivism" for believing in forward motion, and then make the completly-unsupported assumption that knocking everything down will result in a better future?

Yes, the song in that movie based on an Ian Flemming novel implies that failure is necessary for success. You seem to believe that failure is sufficient for success. Are you willing to literally bet your life on that?

Paul SB said...

Dave Bowen,

As a descendent of Crazy Eddie, are you at all interested in claiming burial rights from the Codominion? I only ask because when I was an archaeologist this sort of issue came up all the time. But since the Bush economy drove me from my calling, I have to get some intellectual stimulation somehow.

As far as the Linked-In addiction goes, better you than me1 No, seriously, we are all addicted to things - many things. It's how our brain works. Addiction is a learning mechanism. But it is easily hijacked. You feel compelled to check Linked-In all the time because you have associated it with a dopamine award path. This is normal, but excessive use can overstimulate your dopamine receptors. One of my major fears about the new electronic world is that overstimulation effect, because overstimulation leads to tolerance, where your nerve cells start withdrawing receptors. Its why a heroin addict at first shoots up to get high, but after years of abuse, they are shooting up just to feel normal. It's a negative feedback loop that eventually extinguishes your normal feelings. Most of us have known at least a few potheads at one time, but if you have seen one change over decades, something happens to them. It's not just that they need to smoke more and more weed to get high. They start getting belligerent and lose all sense of humor. The THC overstimulates their endocannabinoid receptors, mainly for anadamide, which is what flows through your synapses when you laugh. Bummer of a consequence.

As far as your Linked-In addiction goes, I wouldn't worry too much. If you were playing fast-paced video games there would be more cause for concern. Every one of us has our own individual level of susceptibility, though, so you will have to judge for yourself if it is becoming a problem. Most people who successfully ditch a bad habit do it by trading it for another (hopefully better) habit, so you'll have to weigh the alternatives. The craving won't really go away, because its wired in, but you might be able to swap out WHAT you crave. I hope that helped. Telling me that it helped will release feel-good oxytocin in my synapses, which is what drives my addiction to this blog (in spite of the Bludgeons).

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

For them, I shifted to 'DoNotMind-ian'.

That reminds me of a quote I heard attributed to G Gordon Liddy. He demonstrated that he could hold his hand directly over a candle flame without flinching from the pain. "The secret is not minding."

David Brin said...



Dave Bowen said...

To Paul SB

It helped. Have some oxytocin, I'm buyin'.

A.F. Rey said...

That reminds me of a quote I heard attributed to G Gordon Liddy. He demonstrated that he could hold his hand directly over a candle flame without flinching from the pain. "The secret is not minding."

For what it's worth, I recall hearing that line at end of the first scene of "Lawrence of Arabia," as "The trick is not minding." I'm sure Peter O'Toole said it much better, too. :)

Dave Bowen said...

To Christian Augustin

My comment "For Davy" next to Edgar Pangborn was intended as an example, not to exclude his other work, much of which ties in to "Davy" in a continuum.

"A Mirror for Observers" is an obvious pick as well.

"West of the Sun" was certainly noteworthy, and thankfully is on Project Gutenberg at

For me, "Davy" was simply a peak experience with the author.

Tony Fisk said...

Final remark re: Darths and Droids

I started reading it through and, if I'd been drinking a beverage at the time, it could have got messy.

Given the conspiracy theory that was doing the rounds just before 'Force' was released, I found 'Can mesa be a Jedi too?' particularly amusing.

Dave Bowen said...

To D-God Brin

Thank you for not smiting me.

David Brin said...

YAy to this fine community. Probably the best comments sectio... other than maybe a physics blog... on Earth.

Now onward


Dan Eastwood said...

Someone already got James H. Schmitz (Thank you!)
Let's add A.E. Merritt

Old Rockin' Dave said...

Though they're obviously not forgotten, H. G. Wells and Jules Verne have been shunted off into a juvenile literature ghetto, where they languish to the peril of all those who have followed. All anyone knows today of Wells is "War of the Worlds", "The Time Machine", and maybe "The Invisible Man", not knowing his role in pretty much inventing their genres. His predictions in "The War of the Air" were fairly prescient,for just one example. And alas poor Verne! He survives in popular consciousness only in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", and an expurgated Disney-ish form at that.
Arthur Conan Doyle too. His non-Holmesian writings are really only well-known to the Doyle enthusiast, except once a decade when a new execrable filming of "The Lost World" comes along. As just a single example, "The Horror of the Heights" is still chilling despite the fact that we move through those heights without a qualm; I suspect the creatures in that story were inspirational of all those Jovian gasbag creatures we have seen more recently.
E.M. Forster is not thought of as a science fiction writer, but I dare anyone to read "The Machine Stops" without uneasiness.

Christian Augustin said...

@Dave Bowen: Thanks for the clarification. Yes, I see it the same way. I read what was available here in German in the 80s (published in the Heyne Verlag), and "A Mirror for Observers" was my first Pangborn (in German simply "Der Beobachter" – "The Observer"). I have already downloaded "West of the Sun" (and the 3 other books available) from Projekt Gutenberg to read it in English. Let's see how this goes ... ;)

Linda Nagata said...

Hi David! I'm coming in very late, but that's the hazard of stashing posts in Pocket to save for later. I just wanted to say, thank you very much for the mention -- although I hope I'm not fading quite yet. I had two original SF novels out in 2015. So there's hope! :-)

psikeyhackr said...

I did a search on Mack Reynolds. Someone made a comment about him.

I tell people that Andre Norton was a better writer, but Reynolds was a better Science Fiction writer. But what can you do when stuff like The Hunger Games makes big money?