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Reader Challenge #7: The Next Science Fiction Grand Masters

The passing of Fred Saberhagen got to me thinking about the stories of his that I had read. I read and enjoyed Empire Of The East and the first Swords Trilogy, the Lost Swords series wasn’t as good as the first trilogy but was still rather interesting, but I never read any of the Berserker novels. That lead to me wonder, in light of my recent reading of almost exclusively new novels, what I might be missing from the ‘back catalog’ of science fiction. One thing lead to another and I ended up at the Science Fiction Writers Of America’s web page covering the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master honorees.

First, take a look at that list. Of course, the usual suspects are there: Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov. But there are also many authors I have read little, if any, stories by: Bester, Clement, Knight, Ellison. And there is at least on notable exclusion, Sturgeon, and what about P.K. Dick? I’m now faced with two questions: How will I ever find the time to read the good new stuff and also catch up on the good old stuff by these authors? And, more interestingly, who, currently writing science fiction, is going to be a Grand Master in the future?

Lets keep in mind that the SFWA Grand Master award is for a lifetime achievement in science fiction/fantasy, and that the writer is still alive at the point of selection. I see two different groups. First, for lifetime achievement, I’m looking at authors going back to the early to mid 80’s (Old Guard). Second, there is the group of recent authors who have burst onto the SF scene, but don’t have a huge body of work yet (Young Whippersnappers). My thoughts below.

Old Guard

  • Gene Wolfe – True, Wolfe’s been writing since the 70’s, but his stuff is so good, I have to include him. I think his Book Of The ____ Sun books are enough to elevate him above most authors currently writing. I’d vote for him.
  • Iain M. Banks – Banks science fiction is big and bold with a strain of dark humor. His Culture novels were quite unlike any other space opera of the time, or even since. The one thing hurting him here is his propensity to write non-SF. I”d think a few more good SF novels should give him a nice body of work to consider for this award.
  • William Gibson – Say what you will about his writing style and plotting, there’ no denying Gibson’s influence on the late 80’s SF field as he almost single handedly created the cyberpunk movement. His later novels have moved away from that sub-genre, but Pattern Recognition did crossover into the mainstream successfully. I think he’ll get the award at some point in the future.

There are a few here that I’m not sure about. David Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear (whats with all the Bs?), Connie Willis and Dan Simmons all come to mind, with Bear possibly being the closest out of this group. And maybe Vinge.

Young Whippersnappers

  • Charles Stross – Stross made a big splash with Singularity Sky, and has gone on making waves with more recent work. A few more years of his verve and inventiveness will probably cement his selection.
  • Neil Gaiman – Neil has written some very good stuff, including his books for the younger set. I’d give him a decent shot at winning if he keeps producing at his current level over the coming years.

And here is where I run into trouble. Looking at the new books and authors I’ve read over the last few years, I’m hard pressed to say, “This guy is going to join the pantheon of SF greats!”. Aside from Stross that is. Certainly there are a lot of interesting authors writing now:Karl Schroeder, Hal Duncan, China Mieville come to mind. But with a limited number of works to go on, it may be too much to pin a certain person down as a future Grand Master just yet.

Keep in mind these lists are just off the top of my head. I know I’m missing other authors I will kick myself for forgetting to include. So, to hasten the self-kicking, who should be on these lists that isn’t? Remember to factor in body of work for older authors and potential staying power for the whippersnappers.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

18 Comments on Reader Challenge #7: The Next Science Fiction Grand Masters

  1. Anonymous // July 4, 2007 at 8:55 am //

    Regarding the exclusions of Sturgeon and Dick, I’m sure they simply both died before they were presented the award. I’m sure Octavia Butler would have been given the award eventually, but unfortunately she passed away rather young and unexpectedly. There are probably lots of other curious exclusions, if you examine the list without considering the problem of sudden deaths. Zelazny, for instance, is not on there.

  2. I think Larry Niven should be on the list – I believe he’s impacted the genre and had several excellent stories. If Poul Anderson is there, Niven should be there.

    How about Stephen Barnes? He hasn’t written a huge number of books yet, but what he has written is excellent.

    If Anne McCaffrey is on the list, shouldn’t we consider Terry Pratchet?

    And finally, Neal Stephenson would be on my list of potential future Grand Masters.

  3. I’d echo Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaman (I was considering changing my first name to Neal/Neil and having my last name start with a “B”…that should be good for a few bestsellers.)

    Why is Edgar Rice Burroughs never on these lists? Probably due to classifying his novels as “pulp”. John Carter of Mars, the Pellucidar novels were some of my early favorites.

    I also would add Orson Scott Card to the list of potentials as well.

    Robert Charles Wilson is certainly putting out some quality novels, he could be added to the Young Whippersnappers list.

    George R. R. Martin has risen a few notches in my book with his latest Ice and Fire saga, put him in with the Old Guard.

  4. Other candidates: Stephen Baxter, Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds, Ian Watson, Kim Stanley Robinson…

  5. I’d like to see Alan E. Nourse there. He wrote a lot of SF that I read when I was a kid. Along with Andre Norton, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and a few others, he was one of the essentials that formed my interests in the genre.

    James Schmitz should be considered. If you don’t know who he is, go to Baen Books Free Library and download some of the stuff.

    “Young Turks”? Well, ranging from young to established…David Drake should be considered. Joe Haldeman as well. I would also toss in Gene Wolfe. I’ve got a posting brewing on why these guys don’t get the respect they deserve.

    How about the Killer B’s: David Brin, Gregory Benford, Greg Bear?

    How about Gordon R. Dickson? John W. Campbell? John Varley? Vernor Vinge?

    Several names already mentioned would be my candidates as well.

  6. Anonymous // July 4, 2007 at 1:35 pm //

    I don’t believe Nourse produced a sufficiently large body of work to be in the running for a Grand Master (SFWA factors in quantity as well as quality). In any case, he’s long dead, so he’ll never be added to the list now.

    I think Joe Haldeman and Gene Wolfe are shoe-ins. But those two don’t get the respect they deserve? From who? They’re two of the most highly-acclaimed writers in the field.

  7. General X // July 4, 2007 at 3:27 pm //

    First off, I wish a happy 4. of July to all you who celebrate this day.

    To me a really good author is one who is easy to read. Asimov had a very simple but poignant style. Clarke seems daunting but is actually also very approachable. And Heinlein the original grand master is praised mostly for his early very readable work. Less so for his late heavy work.

    A lot of authors nowadays that are considered grandmasters in waiting have a style that does not lend itself to nice fast reading. Or at least that is how some of the names mentioned ring to me.

    To that I would like to add the name of John Scalzi.

    With only five science fiction novels to his name I realise why some might find this premature. But Old Man’s War was a really nice and accessible book that underlines the masters trademark conceptually whole and appealing worlds. If he continues like he has with his books so far I think he might definitely be a serious candidate for consideration.

    Also I would like to throw in the name of Kim Stanley Robinson.

  8. “But those two don’t get the respect they deserve? From who?”

    For Gene Wolfe, another blog recently quoted a NY-based editor who pretty much said that if Gene Wolfe wasn’t an established writer, he wouldn’t be published these days. Being somewhat conservative, being somewhat religious, being ex-military are three strikes when it comes to a lot of NY-based editor, I guess.

    Ditto Joe Haldeman. Sure, everybody talks about “The Forever War”, but how many of his other works get discussed on the same level. How about his non-SF works? And does anybody ever actually read “The Forever War” so that they know it is not a “reaction to Robert A. Heinlein”?

    I note you ignored David Drake.

    Again, I’m working on a piece for the blog. Looking back at a writer like Kipling, looking now at Drake, Wolfe, Haldeman and others, looking at Bruce Sterling’s war on what he termed Jim Baen’s authors, heck, looking at the way Jim Baen’s contributions to the field have been ignored, I sense a…disturbance…in the force.


  9. Richard Novak // July 4, 2007 at 5:01 pm //

    First of all, Anne McCaffrey is a Grand Master, chosen after Ellison. The latest is James Gunn.

    Second, I would like to see Ben Bova, Charles De Lint and Gene Wolfe. Dickson is out, having died.

    It would be interesting to see which of the GMs have been read.



  10. Richard Novak // July 4, 2007 at 5:30 pm //

    Ooops! Excused the typo. McCaffrey was chosen before Ellison.



  11. Great list!

    I’d echo nominations for Niven, George R. R. Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson and Robert Charles Wilson in a heartbeat. I’d agree with De Lint, though with some reservations because lately his books have all begun to sound the same – I still enjoy him as an author but I’ve had to take a break because the novels were starting to read a bit like Scooby-Doo episodes.

    I think you’re right, JP, about Dan Simmons being worthy of the nod, but I wonder if he might suffer the same baggage you noted with Banks, with some non-SF stuff under his belt. I don’t think that should be a hindrance though.

    I’d like to suggest Robert J. Sawyer and Spider Robinson for the list of contenders. Would they be counted as Old Guard, or are they just inside the line of Whippersnappers?

    A definite Whippersnapper addition would be Cory Doctorow.

  12. I was under the impression that Alan E. Nourse was a psudonym of Andre Norton’s (I am quite probably wrong, though. Does anyone know?).

    New Grand Masters? How about Lois McMasters Bujold? Eric Flint? David Weber? Robert Silverberg?

  13. Andre Norton used a pseudonym of “Andrew North” early in her career. Try pricing a hardcover “Andrew North” and you’ll be taking out a second mortgage to pay for it!

  14. I was wondering when Doctorow would show up. I think his stories, tech-wise, are good. He certainly has a feel for how to use tech. As for the actual story and characters, I’m much more ambivalent about his stuff.

    And for Keith, Silverberg is a Grand Master.

    I had forgotten about Spider Robinson. Possibly yes.

    As for Pratchett, undeniably popular and prolific. Plus his later stories move away from straight parody and have some depth to them. But will the nominators be able to look past the humorous nature of the books?

  15. General X:

    “To that I would like to add the name of John Scalzi.”

    Thanks, but I’m exactly two and a half years into my science fiction career. It’s waaaaaaaaaaay to early for that level of consideration.

    I pick (in no particular order):

    Orson Scott Card

    Dan Simmons

    William Gibson

    Vernor Vinge

    Louis McMaster Bujold

    Connie Willis

    Sheri Tepper

    Among the writers of my generation, I would not at all be surprised to see Charlie Stross ring that particular bell.

  16. Peter Watts

    Greg Egan

    They’ve written some of the most fascinating and thought-provoking SF I’ve read in recent years (or ever, for that matter).

    They’re at the cutting edge of hard science fiction

  17. Michael Tippens // August 26, 2010 at 8:45 am //

    Not having read, yet, a consideration of the ages and health of the best living writers, I’d suggest that Wolfe and Pratchett should be given the award with due haste. 

    And, why not begin a postumous award for those that didn’t get the honor.  It seems to me that whenever the award is brought up in conversation it’s necessary to remind someone that only now living writers can receive it.

    There are writers on the list that I don’t feel should be there.  McCaffrey’s work seems always to be aimed at a particular segment of fandom/readers.  Gunn’s fiction output probably isn’t enough to have gotten him the award.  So, I suspect that contributions to scholarship or fandom activity are sometimes being considered.

  18. I think Charless Stross is a shoe in, his body of work is growing at a prodigeous rate and whilst not every novel is a classic there are more than a few that are already classics, and unlike many whippersnappers who burst brightly onto the scene and then fade away Stross seems to be going from strength to strength and like the Grandmasters of yore he doesn’t stick to one type of SciFi and have at it.

    John Scalzi is another author worth keeping an eye on, he has a deft hand and a quick mind that gives far greater depth to his novels than they have at 1st glance / read.

    Terry Pratchett also deserves a mention although I would ascibe the title of Legend rather than Grand Master to him.

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