It’s True. Young Readers Should Not Be Introduced To The Genre With Old SF, But….

There’s been a somewhat renewal of the discussion/complaint/observation/argument regarding how and with what those newly introduced to the genre should be introduced with. Many practitioners of the art of writing SF strongly proclaiming their desire that new fans should be recommended contemporary pieces that will resonate with their life experiences; that older works may be too dated (in one of several different ways) to engender interest and even a loosely constructed experiment (Young People Read Old SF) that supports these contentions.

I do agree, at the very least on the basis of the old aphorism “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” (which isn’t entirely true:  add a few drops of dish soap to  a dish of apple vinegar and watch the carnage, but I digress).  My experience and that of other Baby Boomers and Greatest Generation readers was one of the ready availability of the genre’s fiction dating back to it’s beginning and a society that had not changed all that much from the 30s thru the 70s.  Sure, we went from no TV to B&W TV to Color (and then, wonder-of-wonders, solid state TVs!!!), but the trappings of our world were still recongizable and navigable regardless of generation.  The general paucity of material (as compared to these days) pretty much dictated that if you were into the genre and wanted to keep reading it at a steady pace, you pretty much had to turn to older works; it wasn’t until the mid-50s that paperbacks made novel-length works generally available, so you were also somewhat forced to read the magazines to keep pace:  personal desire for engagement with the genre encouraged, if not demanded, that the reader be exposed to both old and new works.

From the 80s on, however, societal changes have created a divide greater than had existed before.  One which a lot of older literature is unable to cross, except as historical curiosity.

However, I still believe that there is one class of young reader who should familiarize themselves with the roots and development of the genre, that being those readers who want to write this stuff.

There are, I believe, some very good, common sense reasons for encouraging them to do so.  I’m not recommending a slavish, enforced requirement

but merely encouragement to have some interest and respect for the fact that the creative activity they are participating in is one very much evolutionary in nature.  Knowledge of this genre’s history and works is not only experiential. They’re tools for the writer.


Other good reasons? I can easily think of two right off the top: you can’t do a “new take” or a “fresh approach” to (whatever subject you address – time travel, space opera, alien invasion) without knowing what the old takes were (or being extremely lucky). Could Haldeman have written The Forever War without having been familiar with Starship Troopers? Could Catherynne M. Valente have written Space Opera without knowing what Space Opera was? The answer is probably yes, they could have written a version of those stories, but we probably wouldn’t be talking about them now.

And the second is – avoidance of wheel re-invention. There’s a ton of authors out there saying to themselves “OMG! I just thought up the greatest SF idea in the history of the universe!”. I mean, we all hope that’s actually true, but the universe’s history is a long one and includes the period 1926 to the present, which itself includes an awful lot of authors having thought the same thought – some of which were undoubtedly accurate – suggesting that there are very long odds against discovering something new under this or any other sun.

There’s also edification, education, entertainment to be had. Someday you might be sitting up there on a panel, holding forth on the genre when some old has-been sitting up there with you says something like “Your latest novel – and congratulations on the award by the way – has strong echoes of this older award-winning work: how much of your novel is a response to it?” Having never read that older award winning novel, let alone never having heard of it, all you can respond with is the embarrassing “I’m not familiar with it”, which strongly suggests you’ve not done your homework. It also loses you the opportunity to pitch your book.

With all that being said, here are some works that you can dive into at your leisure that can help form the basis of a good, solid engagement with the roots of the genre. I’ve chosen anthologies for this list because they have the virtue of including numerous authors as well as shorter works, providing broad exposure for relatively little effort. I’ve also only selected works that are available in electronic format and/or inexpensive used print copies.

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume 1), Robert Silverberg editor. Selected by the founding members of SFWA (and Silverberg), these are the stories that would have been nominated for a Nebula Award, if the award had existed when they were written. It contains stories written and published from 1934 until 1963 and is one of the better surveys of short fiction leading up to the “modern” era.

Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in
A Martian Odyssey [Tweel] · Stanley G. Weinbaum · nv Wonder Stories Jul 1934
Twilight [Dying Earth] · John W. Campbell, Jr. · ss Astounding Nov 1934, as by Don A. Stuart
Helen O’Loy · Lester del Rey · ss Astounding Dec 1938
The Roads Must Roll · Robert A. Heinlein · nv Astounding Jun 1940
Microcosmic God · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Astounding Apr 1941
Nightfall · Isaac Asimov · nv Astounding Sep 1941
The Weapon Shop [Isher] · A. E. van Vogt · nv Astounding Dec 1942
Mimsy Were the Borogoves · Lewis Padgett · nv Astounding Feb 1943
Huddling Place [City (Websters)] · Clifford D. Simak · ss Astounding Jul 1944
Arena · Fredric Brown · nv Astounding Jun 1944
First Contact · Murray Leinster · nv Astounding May 1945
That Only a Mother · Judith Merril · ss Astounding Jun 1948
Scanners Live in Vain · Cordwainer Smith · nv Fantasy Book #6 1950
Mars Is Heaven! · Ray Bradbury · ss Planet Stories Fll 1948
The Little Black Bag · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Astounding Jul 1950
Born of Man and Woman · Richard Matheson · vi F&SF Sum 1950
Coming Attraction · Fritz Leiber · ss Galaxy Nov 1950
The Quest for Saint Aquin · Anthony Boucher · ss New Tales of Space and Time, ed. Raymond J. Healy, Holt 1951; F&SF Jan 1959
Surface Tension [Lavon] · James Blish · nv Galaxy Aug 1952
The Nine Billion Names of God · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine 1953
It’s a Good Life · Jerome Bixby · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #2, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine 1953
The Cold Equations · Tom Godwin · nv Astounding Aug 1954
Fondly Fahrenheit · Alfred Bester · nv F&SF Aug 1954
The Country of the Kind · Damon Knight · ss F&SF Feb 1956
Flowers for Algernon · Daniel Keyes · nv F&SF Apr 1959
A Rose for Ecclesiastes · Roger Zelazny · nv F&SF Nov 1963

Science Fiction by Gaslight, edited by Samuel Moskowitz. Containing short works from 1891 through 1911, Gaslight features proto-SF written for the pulps up to almost the formalization of the genre. (Probably of particular appeal to those who like steampunk, if only for the background settings.)

Photography · Christine Haycock · il
Preface · Sam Moskowitz · pr
Introduction: A History of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911 · Sam Moskowitz · in
The Thames Valley Catastrophe · Grant Allen · ss The Strand Dec 1897
The Doom of London · Robert Barr · ss The Idler Nov 1892
A Corner in Lightning · George Griffith · ss Pearson’s Magazine Mar 1898
The Tilting Island · Thomas J. Vivian & G. J. Bennett · ss Everybody’s Magazine Sep 1909
Finis · Frank Lillie Pollock · ss The Argosy Jun 1906
An Express of the Future · Jules Verne · ss The Strand Jan 1895
The Ray of Displacement · Harriet Prescott Spofford · nv Metropolitan Magazine Oct 1903
Congealing the Ice Trust · H. G. Bishop · vi Broadway Magazine Dec 1907
Lord Beden’s Motor · J. B. Harris-Burland · ss The Strand Dec 1901
The Death-Trap · George Daulton · ss Pearson’s Magazine (US) Mar 1908
The Air Serpent · Will A. Page · ss The Red Book Magazine Apr 1911
The Monster of Lake LaMetrie · Wardon Allan Curtis · ss Pearson’s Magazine Sep 1899
The Voice in the Night · William Hope Hodgson · ss The Blue Book Magazine Nov 1907
The Land Ironclads · H. G. Wells · nv The Strand Dec 1903
The Dam · Hugh S. Johnson · ss The Red Book Magazine Apr 1911
Submarined · Walter Wood · ss Pearson’s Magazine (US) Feb 1905
The Purple Terror · Fred M. White · ss The Strand Sep 1899
Professor Jonkin’s Cannibal Plant [Professor Jonkin] · Howard R. Garis · ss Argosy Aug 1905
An Experiment in Gyro-Hats · Ellis Parker Butler · ss Hampton’s Magazine Jun 1910
The Hybrid Hyperborean Ant · Roy L. McCardell · ss Hampton’s Magazine Dec 1910
Where the Air Quivered · L. T. Meade & Robert Eustace · nv The Strand Dec 1898
In re State vs. Forbes · Warren Earle · ss The Black Cat Jul 1906
Old Doctor Rutherford · D. F. Hannigan · ss The Ludgate Magazine Sep 1891
Itself · Edgar Mayhew Bacon · ss The Black Cat May 1907
Citizen 504 · Charles H. Palmer · ss The Argosy Dec 1896
The Mansion of Forgetfulness · Don Mark Lemon · ss The Black Cat Apr 1907

Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Healy & McComas, one of the first comprehensive anthologies of the genre. There’s some overlap with Hall of Fame, but also a good collection of the first stories to introduce certain tropes of the genre.

Introduction · Raymond J. Healy & J. Francis McComas · in
Requiem [D.D. Harriman] · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Astounding Jan 1940
Forgetfulness · Don A. Stuart · nv Astounding Jun 1937
Nerves · Lester del Rey · na Astounding Sep 1942
The Sands of Time · P. Schuyler Miller · na Astounding Apr 1937
The Proud Robot [Gallegher] · Lewis Padgett · nv Astounding Oct 1943
Black Destroyer [Beagle] · A. E. van Vogt · nv Astounding Jul 1939
Symbiotica [Jay Score] · Eric Frank Russell · nv Astounding Oct 1943
Seeds of the Dusk · Raymond Z. Gallun · nv Astounding Jun 1938
Heavy Planet · Lee Gregor (with Frederik Pohl) · ss Astounding Aug 1939
Time Locker [Gallegher] · Lewis Padgett · nv Astounding Jan 1943
The Link · Cleve Cartmill · ss Astounding Aug 1942
Mechanical Mice · Maurice G. Hugi (ghost written by Eric Frank Russell) · nv Astounding Jan 1941; given as by Maurice A. Hugi.
V-2: Rocket Cargo Ship · Willy Ley · ar Astounding May 1945
Adam and No Eve · Alfred Bester · ss Astounding Sep 1941
Nightfall · Isaac Asimov · nv Astounding Sep 1941
A Matter of Size · Harry Bates · na Astounding Apr 1934
As Never Was · P. Schuyler Miller · ss Astounding Jan 1944
Q.U.R. · Anthony Boucher · ss Astounding Mar 1943, as by H. H. Holmes
Who Goes There? · Don A. Stuart · na Astounding Aug 1938
The Roads Must Roll · Robert A. Heinlein · nv Astounding Jun 1940
Asylum [William Leigh] · A. E. van Vogt · nv Astounding May 1942
Quietus · Ross Rocklynne · ss Astounding Sep 1940
The Twonky · Lewis Padgett · nv Astounding Sep 1942
Time-Travel Happens! · A. M. Phillips · ar Unknown Dec 1939
Robots Return · Robert Moore Williams · ss Astounding Sep 1938
The Blue Giraffe · L. Sprague de Camp · nv Astounding Aug 1939
Flight Into Darkness · Webb Marlowe · nv Astounding Feb 1943
The Weapon Shop [Isher] · A. E. van Vogt · nv Astounding Dec 1942
Farewell to the Master · Harry Bates · nv Astounding Oct 1940
Within the Pyramid · R. DeWitt Miller · ss Astounding Mar 1937
He Who Shrank · Henry Hasse · na Amazing Aug 1936
By His Bootstraps · Anson MacDonald · na Astounding Oct 1941
The Star Mouse [Mitkey] · Fredric Brown · ss Planet Stories Spr 1942
Correspondence Course · Raymond F. Jones · ss Astounding Apr 1945
Brain · S. Fowler Wright · ss The New Gods Lead, Jarrolds 1932

Modern Science Fiction edited by Norman Spinrad. Norman Spinrad is considered a writer of the New Wave of Science Fiction (which lost the battle but has seemingly won the war). The New Wave was the first attempt within the genre to widen its scope and introduce literary techniques. Modern Science Fiction provides a good look and commentary on this revolutionary period, illustrating the genre’s progression.

Foreword · Norman Spinrad · fw
Introduction—Modern Science Fiction · Norman Spinrad · in
The Golden Age · Norman Spinrad · si
Twilight [Dying Earth] · John W. Campbell, Jr. · ss Astounding Nov 1934, as by Don A. Stuart
Enchanted Village · A. E. van Vogt · ss Other Worlds Science Stories Jul 1950
Helen O’Loy · Lester del Rey · ss Astounding Dec 1938
Nightfall · Isaac Asimov · nv Astounding Sep 1941
The Postwar Awakening · Norman Spinrad · si
The Star [Star of Bethlehem] · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Infinity Science Fiction Nov 1955
Affair with a Green Monkey · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Venture May 1957
Stranger Station · Damon Knight · nv F&SF Dec 1956
The Cold Equations · Tom Godwin · nv Astounding Aug 1954
The Marching Morons · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Galaxy Apr 1951
5,271,009 · Alfred Bester · nv F&SF Mar 1954
The Full Flowering · Norman Spinrad · si
The Voices of Time · J. G. Ballard · nv New Worlds Oct 1960
The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius [Von Bek; Seaton Begg] · Michael Moorcock · ss New Worlds Sep 1965, as by James Colvin
No Direction Home · Norman Spinrad · ss New Worlds Quarterly 2, ed. Michael Moorcock, London: Sphere 1971
Descending · Thomas M. Disch · ss Fantastic Jul 1964
For a Breath I Tarry · Roger Zelazny · nv New Worlds Mar 1966
Don’t Wash the Carats · Philip José Farmer · ss Orbit 3, ed. Damon Knight, G.P. Putnam’s 1968
Faith of Our Fathers · Philip K. Dick · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1967
Aye, and Gomorrah… · Samuel R. Delany · ss Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1967
At the Mouse Circus · Harlan Ellison · ss New Dimensions I, ed. Robert Silverberg, Doubleday 1971
In Entropy’s Jaws · Robert Silverberg · nv Infinity #2, ed. Robert Hoskins, Lancer 1971
Nine Lives · Ursula K. Le Guin · nv Playboy Nov 1969
Additional Significant Works of Speculative Fiction · [Misc.] · bi

Largely absent from these volumes are the contributions of female authors (which is a whole other discussion). Two volumes can help rectify that a bit:

Women of Wonder edited by Pamela Sargeant, the first anthology devoted to female SF authors.

Introduction: Women in Science Fiction · Pamela Sargent · in
The Child Dreams · Sonya Dorman · pm
That Only a Mother · Judith Merril · ss Astounding Jun 1948
Contagion · Katherine MacLean · nv Galaxy Oct 1950
The Wind People · Marion Zimmer Bradley · ss If Feb 1959
The Ship Who Sang [Helva] · Anne McCaffrey · nv F&SF Apr 1961
When I Was Miss Dow · Sonya Dorman · ss Galaxy Jun 1966
The Food Farm · Kit Reed · ss Orbit 2, ed. Damon Knight, Berkley Medallion 1967
Baby, You Were Great · Kate Wilhelm · ss Orbit 2, ed. Damon Knight, Berkley Medallion 1967
Sex and/or Mr. Morrison · Carol Emshwiller · ss Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday 1967
Vaster Than Empires and More Slow · Ursula K. Le Guin · nv New Dimensions I, ed. Robert Silverberg, Doubleday 1971
False Dawn · Chelsea Quinn Yarbro · ss Strange Bedfellows, ed. Thomas N. Scortia, Random 1972
Nobody’s Home · Joanna Russ · ss New Dimensions II, ed. Robert Silverberg, Doubleday 1972
Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand [Snake] · Vonda N. McIntyre · nv Analog Oct 1973

A more recent work, both an anthology of SF and a history of female authors in the genre can be found in Lisa Yaszek’s The Future is Female

The Miracle of the Lily • (1928) • novelette by Clare Winger Harris
The Conquest of Gola • (1931) • short story by Leslie F. Stone
The Black God’s Kiss • [Jirel of Joiry] • (1934) • novelette by C. L. Moore (variant of Black God’s Kiss)
Space Episode • (1941) • short story by Leslie Perri
That Only a Mother • (1948) • short story by Judith Merril
In Hiding • [Children of the Atom] • (1948) • novelette by Wilmar H. Shiras
Contagion • (1950) • novelette by Katherine MacLean
The Inhabited Men • (1951) • short story by Margaret St. Clair
Ararat • [The People] • (1952) • novelette by Zenna Henderson
All Cats Are Gray • (1953) • short story by Andre Norton [as by Andrew North]
Created He Them • (1955) • short story by Alice Eleanor Jones
Mr. Sakrison’s Halt • (1956) • short story by Mildred Clingerman
All the Colors of the Rainbow • (1957) • novelette by Leigh Brackett
Pelt • (1958) • short story by Carol Emshwiller
Car Pool • (1959) • novelette by Rosel George Brown
For Sale, Reasonable • (1959) • short story by Elizabeth Mann Borgese
Birth of a Gardener • (1961) • short story by Doris Pitkin Buck
The Tunnel Ahead • (1961) • short story by Alice Glaser
The New You • (1962) • short story by Kit Reed
Another Rib • (1963) • short story by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Juanita Coulson [as by Marion Zimmer Bradley and John Jay Wells]
When I Was Miss Dow • (1966) • short story by Sonya Dorman
Baby, You Were Great • (1967) • short story by Kate Wilhelm (variant of Baby, You Were Great!)
The Barbarian • [Alyx] • (1968) • novelette by Joanna Russ
The Last Flight of Dr. Ain • (1969) • short story by James Tiptree, Jr.
Nine Lives • (1969) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

Not to mention all of the work by POC authors that has been overlooked. (We’re all catching up in a lot of different ways.) Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas

Introduction: Looking for the Invisible • (2000) • essay by Sheree Renée Thomas [as by Sheree R. Thomas]

Sister Lilith • (2000) • short story by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
The Comet • (1920) • short story by W. E. B. Du Bois
Chicago 1927 • [The Gilda Stories] • (2000) • short story by Jewelle Gomez
Black No More (excerpt) • (1931) • short fiction by George S. Schuyler
Separation Anxiety • (2000) • short story by Evie Shockley
Tasting Songs • (2000) • short story by Leone Ross
Can You Wear My Eyes • (2000) • short story by Kalamu ya Salaam
Like Daughter • (2000) • short story by Tananarive Due
Greedy Choke Puppy • short story by Nalo Hopkinson
Rhythm Travel • (1996) • short fiction by Amiri Baraka
Buddy Bolden • (1996) • short story by Kalamu ya Salaam
Aye, and Gomorrah… • (1967) • short story by Samuel R. Delany
Ganger (Ball Lightning) • short story by Nalo Hopkinson
The Becoming • (2000) • short story by Akua Lezli Hope
The Goophered Grapevine • (1887) • short story by Charles W. Chesnutt
The Evening and the Morning and the Night • (1987) • novelette by Octavia E. Butler
Afterword (The Evening and the Morning and the Night) • (1996) • essay by Octavia E. Butler
Twice, at Once, Separated • (2000) • short story by Linda D. Addison [as by Linda Addison]
Gimmile’s Songs • [Dossouye] • (1984) • short story by Charles R. Saunders
At the Huts of Ajala • (2000) • short story by Nisi Shawl
The Woman in the Wall • (2000) • novelette by Steven Barnes
Ark of Bones • (1974) • short story by Henry Dumas
Butta’s Backyard Barbecue • (2000) • short fiction by Tony Medina
Future Christmas (excerpt from The Terrible Twos) • short fiction by Ishmael Reed
At Life’s Limits • [Of Wings, Nectar, & Ancestors • 3] • (2000) • novelette by Kiini Ibura Salaam
The African Origins of UFOs (excerpt) • (2000) • short fiction by Anthony Joseph
The Astral Visitor Delta Blues • (2000) • short story by Robert Fleming
The Space Traders • (1992) • novelette by Derrick Bell
The Pretended • (2000) • short story by Darryl A. Smith
Hussy Strutt • (2000) • short story by Ama Patterson
Racism and Science Fiction • (1998) • essay by Samuel R. Delany
Why Blacks Should Read (and Write) Science Fiction • (2000) • essay by Charles R. Saunders
Black to the Future • (1999) • essay by Walter Mosley
Yet Do I Wonder • (1994) • essay by Paul D. Miller
The Monophobic Response • (1995) • essay by Octavia E. Butler
That’s probably enough for now. I think it a pretty good syllabus for examining the genre from root to branch.

Editor’s Note: Table of Contents listings are drawn from William G. Contento’s Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections, Combined Edition, which itself is a great resource for historical info on the genre, and from the International Science Fiction Database, another excellent resource.

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