You’ve seen the lists. You’ve heard the way they talk. It would go right past you if you didn’t know what to look for, but really… outside of our circles here it’s as if science fiction just mysteriously leaps from H. G. Wells and Jules Verne directly to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein. There’s a similar skip in fantasy: people act like it emerged from nowhere with Tolkien and Lewis, then there’s a lull that is later picked up with Brooks, Jordan, and Martin. To add insult to injury, it’s in this context of course that the Poindexters arrive to lecture us on how Mary Shelly invented science fiction.
This isn’t normal. It really isn’t. There’s something flatly pathological about it. And it sounds tinfoil hat crazy to come right out and say it, but… it’s as if the field has suffered from a coordinated effort to cut its own heart out.
Once again, the jazz scene provides a model for how sane people approach that canonization process. They aren’t even particularly self-conscious of it, either. Check out how the guy doing the voiceover introduces Dizzy Gillespie in this video of the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival:
If greatness can be defined as affecting everything that follows, this man truly deserves that accolade.
The problem with pretty well everyone’s lists of fantasy and science fiction greats right now is that they leave out the people that all the truly influential works derive from. But the reality is, that the groundwork of fantasy and science fiction as we think of it today was laid by Lord Dunsany, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and A. Merritt.
The fact of who those men are and who they directly influenced is what makes Appendix N so much more than just a list of books that were looted in order to get the Dungeons & Dragons game off the ground. It’s a time capsule that preserves the hidden sources of everything we take for granted in fantasy and science fiction today. And a reminder that fantasy and science fiction are not at war with each other but in fact have the same foundation.