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Sci-Fi Books

Ask Slashdot: Most Underappreciated Sci-Fi Writer? 1130

Posted by Soulskill
from the nice-try-zombie-brunner dept.
mvdwege writes "In the thread on the most depressing sci-fi, there were hundreds of posts but merely four mentions of John Brunner, dystopian writer par excellence. Now, given the normally U.S. libertarian bent of the Slashdot audience, it is understandable that an outright British Socialist writer like Brunner would get short shrift, but it got me thinking: what Sci-fi writers do you know that are, in your opinion, vastly underappreciated?"
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Ask Slashdot: Most Underappreciated Sci-Fi Writer?

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  • Olaf Stapledon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:08PM (#40924365) Homepage
    Way ahead of his time.
  • Robert Anton Wilson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gallondr00nk (868673) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:12PM (#40924399)

    The Illuminatus Trilogy was brilliant, and his SchrÃdinger's Cat Trilogy was pretty awesome too. I guess there's better writers out there, and more prolific ones, but there's something thought provoking about his work. For me , they allow you to see the world differently and they make you ask questions. RIP RAW.

  • Walter M. Miller Jr. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ian Lamont (1116549) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:15PM (#40924431) Homepage
    I read a lot of post-apocalyptic sci-fi when I was a kid, and the author that really stood out was Walter M. Miller, Jr., author of A Canticle for Leibowitz. He's a strong short story writer as well, but he's seldom mentioned in sci-fi lists -- I speculate it's because his prime writing period was in the 1950s.
  • Re:Me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by swell (195815) <jabberwock@p[ ]ic.com ['oet' in gap]> on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:16PM (#40924443)

    "My teacher said my handwriting was too messy. I never wrote again."

    You were lucky. My teacher said I was smart and my writing was good. She almost had me believing I was smart, but I've wasted 60 years writing in an age when writers outnumber readers.

  • Philip K. Dick (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeDuncan (874519) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:17PM (#40924451)

    He was almost unknown while he was alive, I'd never heard of him until I was an adult, and the only reason most people know about him is because Hollywood has been mining his mind-nuggets post-mortem for decades.

    I'm sure the Slashdot crowd appreciates him, but I'd still say he's under-appreciated because he deserves to be up there with the likes of Asimov, Wells and Verne.

  • Garrett P. Serviss (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:21PM (#40924503) Journal

    Writer of lame fanfiction and sci-fi genre pioneer, apparently:

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19949_the-6-most-important-sci-fi-ideas-were-invented-by-hack.html [cracked.com]

  • Re:J. K. Rowling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wierd_w (1375923) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:26PM (#40924571)

    Oh, I totally agree!

    We need an "L. Ron Hubbard award for literary audaciousness".

    What other sci-fi writer jumped the shark with such intense audacity as to proclaim a series of lackluster works of science fiction space opera cliches as a genuine religious faith?

    Clearly, this level of literary audaciousness deserves a analog to the raspberry award.

  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grogo (861262) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:26PM (#40924573)
    I am of Polish descent, and have read all of Lem's books in Polish, and most in English. The originals are of course better -- he was a master of inventive wordplay which just doesn't translate very well into other languages. He shaped my appreciation of SciFi forever -- I could never understand why people liked Star Trek for example, which seemed so simplistic in comparison. He's very well known in the East, but hard to find in the West, even now.
  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ACS Solver (1068112) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:31PM (#40924625)

    I was hoping in fact just today there'd be an appropriate reason for me to post this on Slashdot.

    Lem is relatively well known in the USA, from what I can judge. The couple of English translations I've encountered weren't particularly good. Lem's Solaris is brilliant, and several other works are well worth reading.

    But whom I really want to point out to sci-fi fans in the USA are the Strugatsky brothers (Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky). Soviet sci-fi authors with legendary status in post-Soviet space among anyone who reads sci-fi. As an avid sci-fi fan, I put them on the very top tier of authors, along with the better known English-language greats like Clarke, Asimov or Bradbury.

    English translations are not too numerous, but I discovered last month that one of their best books, Roadside Picnic, has been re-released in the USA with a new translation. Amazon link [amazon.com]. Give it a try. I really hope that new edition will help in getting them to be better known in the English-speaking world, and greatly hope that this post will get at least a couple of Slashdotters to look into it.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:43PM (#40924789)
    HP Lovecraft. He generally dismissed as a horror writer by non horror fans but he's not given credit for the scifi nature of most of his work. There are obvious scifi stories like "In the Walls of Eryx" but most of his stories had scifi themes. At the Mountains of Madness was about an alien race that built a city in Antarctica millions of years ago and potentially created human life if not all life on Earth. Even stories like The Whisperer in Darkness dealt with a race of aliens that harvested brains to transport the minds of people between worlds. The old gods were described as very powerful aliens. He talked about alien races, space travel, dimensional travel and engineering lifeforms with science not magic. The magic in his stories was mostly expressed as alien super science even the spells and symbols used were seen as science. Another story Cool Air was about some one preserving life after death with chemicals and refrigeration. People forget the original Herbert West Reanimator was a Frankenstein like story of resurrecting the dead through science not magic. Yes he was a horror writer but the bulk of his world was more science fiction than fantasy.
  • Poul Anderson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:51PM (#40924905) Homepage

    Most unappreciated has to go to Poul Anderson.

    He wrote so much stuff, and almost all of it top-notch. His name deserves to be right up there with Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein.

    The Flandry books. The van Rijn books. The Time Patrol. The Hoka books!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poul_Anderson [wikipedia.org]

    http://baen.com/author_catalog.asp?author=panderson [baen.com]

    His work was nominated for Hugo awards on numerous occasions, but the top names released popular stories at the same time and he lost to those.

    Somewhere I saw a discussion of the best SF books to give to SF-hating friends to try to win them over. The Time Patrol books were chosen by several. "The Sorrow of Odin the Goth" is fantastic.

    Baen collected all the Time Patrol stuff into one mega volume:

    http://www.baenebooks.com/p-428-time-patrol.aspx [baenebooks.com]

    You can read the first novella and most of the second one for free at the above link (click on "View sample chapters").

    steveha

  • Re:Terry Pratchett (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Macgrrl (762836) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:52PM (#40924919)

    Having met the man a few times, and seen the adoration of his fans (only red Dwarf fans seemed more manic), I can genuinely say that Pterry [1] deserves all the accolades he receives. As to how well known his works are outside of fantasy fandom, I have no idea. Most of my geek friends has read his works and enjoyed them.

    The Discworld books are largely parodies and satire examining various pop culture phenomenons or societal constructs. for something slightly different, try Nation [wikipedia.org] which isn't considered a Discworld novel per se.

    Pterry is also an advocate for voluntary euthanasia, having recently made a documentary [wikipedia.org] for the BBC. His interest in the topic was partially inspired due to his diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

    If you are looking to try the Discworld novels for the first time, "Guards Guards" is a good place to start. The quality, complexity and depth of the novels has improved greatly over the 30 years or so he's been published.

    [1] A convention adopted on alt.books.pratchett and alt.fan.pratchett also refers to Terry as Pterry as a homage to his book Pyramids. It has been fairly broadly adopted within fan circles. Terry used to be a regular participant on usenet before social media was cool. It was kinda neat to be able to have a conversation with an author you appreciated and get direct responses to questions on interpretation or intent of their works. Sadly since the onset of his Alzheimer's diagnosis, he doesn't frequent social media channels as much anymore. He has a twitter presence, but I'm unsure whether he is actually behind the keyboard. He now dictates his novels as a coping mechanism.

  • Joanna Russ (Score:2, Interesting)

    by supercrisp (936036) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:54PM (#40924953)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joanna_Russ [wikipedia.org] She's hardly in print anymore. I think the problem she's had is that SF still tends a bit to be a genre for spotty-faced boys (or the imago form of that creature), while her work was intensely feminist. But she's well worth a read and any discomfort she might cause the adult form of the spotty-faced boy.
  • Re:David Brin (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xevioso (598654) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:58PM (#40924995)

    He's quite well known, has had a movie made from one of his works (The Postman, with Kevin Costner), and has won multiple awards. He just hasn't writtena lot of his more epic sci fi he originally was known for in a while. But I wouldn't say he's under-appreciated. Also he just released a new book. Can't remember the name though.

  • My Short List (Score:4, Interesting)

    by careysub (976506) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @07:59PM (#40925005)
    • RA Lafferty
    • Gene Wolfe
    • Corwainer Smith
    • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cpu6502 (1960974) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @08:06PM (#40925095)

    >>>Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky). Soviet sci-fi authors with legendary status in post-Soviet space among anyone who reads sci-fi.

    The iron curtain blocked a lot of great writers. Not just for Russia/Eastern Europe but also China. I recently purchased a book that was an anthology of the "best" Chinese stories and was blown away.

    TRIVIA - The best selling magazine in the WORLD is a Chinese science fiction magazine. "Science Fiction World" It has a readership of 400,000. For comparison Asimov's SF is only ~15,000.

    http://www.concatenation.org/articles/science_fiction_world_2010.html [concatenation.org]

  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gorobei (127755) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @09:45PM (#40925973)

    This is the first Slashdot in ages in which the comments are hitting almost uniform high quality.

    Brunner, LeGuin, Lem, and the Brothers Strugatsky. All great SciFi in terms of ideas above technological opera.

    I hope to see Yevgeny Zamyatin, maybe even Jack Vance and Zelazny mentioned.

    All these guys are on par with the standard "canon of important literature you should know, Mr college graduate."

  • Re:J. K. Rowling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RedBear (207369) <redbear.redbearnet@com> on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @10:03PM (#40926121) Homepage

    Keep modding parent up, please.

    Everyone's opinion of L. Ron Hubbard today is strongly colored by the fact that he went insane at some point and took a joke way too far (by inventing Scientology as part of a casual bet with Heinlein over who could invent the best religion). I hate Scientology and all other religious cults (i.e. "religions") as much as the next rational person, but unfortunately it makes people forget the fact that LRH was actually a very good writer back in the day, including science fiction. He was contemporaries and friends with other sci-fi greats like Heinlein. People judge him now based on the craziness of the Xenu story, but I believe he specifically made the basis of Scientology as totally nonsensical as possible to demonstrate how easy it is to get people to believe in totally nonsensical made-up crap. He was making a point, originally, but then ran off the tracks with it because so many people fell for it that he convinced himself it was real (or at least worth taking advantage of to bring himself money and power).

    All that aside, and this has been mentioned before a couple of times in other sci-fi discussions, the man was fully capable of writing excellent stories. I was fortunate to read _Battlefield Earth_ long before I had ever heard of Scientology, and even though I've devoured Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Dick, Zelazny, and many other great collections of sci-fi before and since, to this day decades later _Battlefield Earth_ remains one of my favorite sci-fi novels. There's just something about it. It's incredibly well thought out logistically and filled with fascinating concepts that I've never quite seen replicated in any other sci-fi I've ever read or seen since then. There's a sort of plans-within-plans scheming aspect that strongly reminds me of _Dune_ at times. It's also very long, much longer than your typical sci-fi novel, so it's got the space to tell a very detailed and satisfying saga-type story with lots of different well-written characters. There are many concepts and scenes from the book that just pop back into my head now and then because they were just so unique and interesting. Oh, and it's just plain fun. It's a grand adventure. (One of my favorite parts was the little gray lawyer guy with the upset stomach at the end. Hilarious.)

    The movie of course is a horrible joke. I was actually kind of surprised that someone with that much money to play with and who supposedly worships LRH as part of his religion would thoroughly massacre such a great book. The movie ended up containing about 1% of what made the book so good. So don't let that stop you from reading the book. If someone really did justice to a movie adaptation it could easily be one of the best blockbuster trilogies ever made.

    So anyway, if you've got the balls go get yourself a copy of _Battlefield Earth_ and read it. Then when people ask why you're reading crap by "that Scientology guy" you can set them straight. My vote is definitely for L. Ron Hubbard being one of the most underappreciated sci-fi writers today.

  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @10:24PM (#40926307) Homepage

    Star Trek had a tendency to ignore human nature. That's something that was nice about Bab5. We were in space but we were still ourselves. We've had 10 thousand years of recorded history to become something else. A couple hundred years and some extra technology isn't going to change us on a fundemental level.

    You could point to history for equally drastic changes that didn't turn everything into pretty ponies and unicorns.

    It got so bad that aliens had to stand in for human failings.

  • Re:Ursula K. LeGuin (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dr.g (158917) on Wednesday August 08, 2012 @11:07PM (#40926693) Homepage Journal

    Huh. I actually liked that.

    Must be at a certain level of appreciation, certainly below the sophisticated understanding of modern MFAs, but I liked that.

    Anyway, the most under-appreciated sci-fi author, bar none, is Jack Vance. If any deem this underappreciation deserved because he didn't seem to undertake the addressing of Big Themes, said "any" merely show they just. don't. get it.

    Also, he was the best at creating names, like, evar!! He could outname Tolkein on Tolkein's best day even if he let Tolkein use the CERN High-Velocity Namer and spotted him half the alphabet.

  • Re:Stanislaw Lem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by muecksteiner (102093) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @03:09AM (#40928205)

    I don't speak Polish, but am bilingual in English and German. And the German translations of Lem are apparently very, very good. They are certainly full of the kind of very innovative wordplay you mention, which is pretty much absent from the English version. I've been told that the person who did the German translation was a bi-lingual person for whom the whole thing was a labour of love, in that they went the extra mile to make sure as many of the little jokes and puns were translated properly.

  • by Randym (25779) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:29AM (#40929501)
    (by inventing Scientology as part of a casual bet with Heinlein over who could invent the best religion)

    According to Harlan Ellison, who was there, the actual event came about at a Con in NYC in 1952 when L. Sprauge de Camp made a joke that, if you wanted to make money with science fiction, you should just invent your own religion. L. Ron, however, took it seriously.

    L. Sprauge de Camp, unfortunately, remains unappreciated.

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