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17 Must-Have Science Fiction Books – a 1949 Perspective

The Winter 1949 issue of The Arkham Sampler set out to find the list of essential science fiction books. They asked writers (Dr. David H. Keller, Lewis Padgett, P. Schuyler Miller, Theodore Sturgeon, A. E. Van Vogt, Donald Wandrei), Editors (Sam Merwin, Jr., John W. Campbell, Paul L. Payne, Raymond A. Palmer, Everett Bleiler) and fans (A. Langley Searles, Forrest J. Ackerman and Sam Moskowitz). All responded except for Campbell and Palmer.

Here’s the list that emerged:

  1. Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells
  2. Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
  3. Brave New Worlds by Aldous Huxley
  4. The Short Stories of H. G. Wells by H. G. Wells
  5. Adventures In Time and Space edited by Healy and McComas
  6. Slan by A. E. Van Vogt
  7. The World Below by S. Fowler Wright
  8. Strange Ports Of Call edited by August Derleth
  9. To Walk The Night by William Sloane
  10. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
  11. Sirius by Olaf Stapledon
  12. Gladiator by Philip Wylie
  13. Before the Dawn by John Taine
  14. Who Goes There? and Other Stories by John W. Campbell
  15. The Best of Science Fiction edited by Groff Conklin
  16. Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
  17. Out of the Silence by Earle Cox

[via It’s a Pulp World]

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

7 Comments on 17 Must-Have Science Fiction Books – a 1949 Perspective

  1. “Seven Famous Novels”? That’s cheating, 1949 Arkham Sampler!

  2. Let’s see…have or have read…1-6, 10-12, 14-16. How much of a SF geek does that make me?


  3. I notice that there are 3, count them THREE books by Olaf Stapledon, one of the early giants in the field unaccountably forgotten these days.

    I am pleased to see SLAN by AE van Vogt on this list. At one time, SLAN was a must-read for all SF fans.

  4. Olaf Stapledon forgotten? The Gollancz series (Masterworks) has “Last and First Men”.

    Dover Books still has its venerable omnibus of both “Last and First Men” and “Star Maker” being printed (love that cover) as well as the omnibus of “Odd John” and “Sirius”.

    (Very good prices on both, BTW!)

    Wesleyan University Press has “Star Maker” with a good introduction by Freeman Dyson (can you say “Dyson Sphere”?).

    (You can get “Last Men in London” online as well as other Stapledon works.)

    I think the bigger problem with Stapledon is that most “modern” readers will find him “difficult”. Not enough explosions, for one thing.


  5. “Not enough explosions, for one thing…”

    Not enough explosions, forsooth! The First Men die in an uncontrolled atomic explosion that ignites all the uranium in the Earth’s crust. The Martians decimate the Fourth Men, who counterattack with a bioweapon causing a thousand-year-long plague. The Fifth Men unwittingly pull the moon out of orbit and send it crashing into Earth. The Sixth Men kill every living thing on Venus while colonizing it. The Seventh Men all kill themselves. Then the sun explodes, forcing the colonization of Neptune. After half a billion years, the sun explodes again, wiping out all humanity.

    Not enough explosions! These young whippersnappers! What do they know of explosions. In my day, we had Eddy Hamilton, yes, WORLD-WRECKER HAMILTON, and a planet was lucky to make it through one of his short stories alive, lemme tell you, young ‘un.

    You think you newfangled Death Star can blow up a planet? Well, Black DuQuesne can blow up ten thousand planets from a position outside the galaxy while running away at half a million times the speed of light from a coherent energy beam powered by all the stars of the galactic core! I won’t even tell you what Richard Seaton or the Gray Lensman can do when one of them gets mad!

  6. PapayaSF // July 6, 2007 at 1:19 pm //

    Never even heard of #9 or #17.

    Also interesting that because science fiction in book form was still quite rare, there’s very little Golden Age stuff here: no Heinlein or Asimov, though they’d been publishing in magazines for a decade.

  7. “Whippersnappers”?

    John, that’s the nicest thing anybody has said to me in a long time!


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