Novelist Ian Sales makes an interesting point – a lot of the stories and novels held up as classics of the science fiction genre are actually very bad adverts for the modern form:
I’ve complained before about the undeserving admiration given to many science fiction novels and short stories of earlier decades. Such reverence frequently results in fans recommending these works to people wanting to try the genre. And that’s not a good thing. Readers new to the genre are not served well by recommendations to read Isaac Asimov, EE ‘Doc’ Smith, Robert Heinlein, or the like. Such fiction is no longer relevant, is often written with sensibilities offensive to modern readers, usually has painfully bad prose, and is mostly hard to find because it’s out of print. A better recommendation would be a current author – such as Richard Morgan, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M Banks, Ken MacLeod, Stephen Baxter, and so on.
I think Sales has a good point there. I came to science fiction through the authors publishing in the eighties, and as such I’ve found that a lot of the classics are, while interesting from a historical perspective, pretty unfulfilling reads. And hell knows being made to read some of Dickens’ more tedious works at school gave me a knee-jerk reaction to literary classics, too. [Murray Leinster cover scanned by J Levar]
Which authors would you recommend to a reader wanting to dip their toes into the genre, and why?