Young People Read Old SF!

Monday , 15, August 2016 10 Comments

This fascinating new site aims to test the last year’s claims about kids these days being unable to get excited about classic science fiction. Here’s the deal:

I’ve rounded up a pool of younger people who have agreed to let me expose them to classic works of science fiction and assembled a list of older works I think still have merit. Each month my subjects will read and react to those stories; I will then post the results to this site. Hilarity will doubtless ensue!

I look forward to seeing how this plays out!

Adam-Troy Castro’s comments which inspired this project deserve a brief response.  Here’s mine:

Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke do not define the field. They are not representative of the field. They were not the best, either. Making them out as being the exemplars of “classic science fiction” is just plain strange. I know everybody does it, but it’s the result of people repeating this “big three” nonsense without giving the matter any thought.

The main problem with it is that it arbitrarily excludes Weird Fiction and Planetary Romance from the definition of science fiction. Edgar Rice Burroughs is the real giant of 20th century science fiction. H. P. Lovecraft’s incomparable Mythos stories include more than a few that are straight ahead science fiction tales. The kind of variety involved in pulling in those two guys matters, too. Different people like different things, after all. You just can’t know in advance what’s going to “set someone’s heart afire,” so moving beyond the assumptions of “big three” thinking is essential if you actually want to make some kind of connection.

Adam-Troy mentions that people are liable to be horrified by some of Heinlein’s attitudes. The thing about that is that young people have to be trained to object to that sort of thing. Most of them have no problem with the old books until they graduate college, when they suddenly realize just how offensive the novels they loved as a child have been made to them. You know what’s actually horrifying, though? All the graphic material glommed onto science fiction works starting in the seventies when authors and publishers fell all over themselves to show off how “mature” they were. The older works were written to a standard that was meant to appeal to much broader audience. They still do.

  • PCBushi says:

    Interesting! I agree wholeheartedly that those three do not define the field (though I am a big fan of the Foundation series), but I’d also say I’d rather some youngsters be exposed to these three than none of the older SFF authors. Certainly a leg up on the amount of exposure to those works that I had as a kid/teen.

    • Jeffro says:

      So why were those three guys singled out? It’s partly a repudiation of romance. But it also insinuates that the only “serious” or significant science fiction is the post-Christian variety. Finally, the list of which authors were primary in the creation of the first science fiction rpgs presents a very different picture. People that expect them to be in line with Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein are in for a shock.

      Taken together, I believe this indicates that this “big three” stuff is a merely narrative. One thing people while get out of doing their own survey is to find their own “big three”.

      • PCBushi says:

        Indeed. I don’t disagree; I just still think it’s worth reading those three to become familiar with them. Kind of like how we’re forced to read literary classics in school, despite some of them kind of sucking (The Great Gatsby is perhaps the most overrated book of all time).

  • Blume says:

    I don’t consider myself a young person but I do meet the born after 1980 cut off. I have been greatly enjoying the through back fiction that had been highlighted here at Castilia house. Burrough’s prose style has a refinement you rarely see these days.

    • Jeffro says:

      I’ve been trying to think what’s going on with that. One thing I see with John Carter is that his language sounds almost like what you see in letters from the Civil War era. Of course, it would make sense if it did.

  • Anthony says:

    Reading the reviews is certainly interesting, like the reviewer of Simak’s “Desertion” who cheers when a female character causes a male character to break down in an argument. That proves she’s strong, you see!

    The young reviewers seem to be totally obsessed with how female characters are portrayed. It’s a little weird.

    • Jeffro says:

      It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the stories might exist for some other purpose than as a confirmation of their personal politics.

    • cirsova says:

      The female characters are just tiny fragments of sexless 4th dimensional superbeings living in palaces of emerald and hellfire so don’t matter that much anyway.

  • Mitchell Kirby says:

    Just wanted on the book list

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