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.
- 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.
- 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.