Here we go again. You’d think a few people might learn by now. And perhaps these fellows truly believe the greatest writers that ever lived or live are all men. But you would think that if they include the very first and the very latest there might even be one woman? Albeit a list of the Top Ten SF Writers of all time is a pretty small list, but still.
Who are Shaun Nichols and Iain Thomson that they would be experts on SF writers? Well, they are techy geeks guys, which by definition makes them SF fans. And they write for http://www.v3.co.uk , some techy geek site that does Top Ten this and that. And as readers of SF they are as qualified as you and me. Here’s a bit culled form their bios on the site. Shaun Nichols is the US Correspondent for V3.co.uk, and primary writer and editor for the Mac Inspector blog. He holds a BA in Journalism from San Francisco State University. Iain Thomson is the US editor of V3.co.uk and was previously technical editor of PC Magazine, reviews editor of PC Advisor and editor of Aviation Informatics.
Now, within the restrictions of the top ten, they decided to go with SF novel writers, not short stories, nor with TV or movies, though they gave an honorable mention to Gene Roddenberry. They mentioned they’re going to get hammered on their list, and seem to be looking at who has had a”key role in inspiring research and eventual technological development.” Okay, that’s one way to put it but their list won’t hold true to all of their choices though the great three, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein, whose fiction did inspire inventions and many of them are named after the artifacts in the books (a waldo is one example).
They in fact wanted to put the writers of Red Dwarf onto the list but maybe it was TV before it was a book? And I’m not sure how Red Dwarf inspired technological development. As well, the authors say, “SF deals with the possible and sets specific constraints on the writer. Fantasy, to my mind, is just an excuse to develop alternative realities with no reference to the real world.” This is a pretty important quote because it means all the SF they mention needs to be Earth-centric. But how? Do the books only need to have humans who once began on Earth? Does it need to refer to Earth in the course of the book? Does Earth have to be central to the plot, because indeed there is much SF that does not take place on Earth or the “real world.” And what exactly constitutes the real world? The real world today, fifty years from now, a thousand years from now, a hundred years in the past or a world that would be if X happened?
The ten names are all recognizable to SF readers: Iain Banks, H.G. Wells, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Jules Verne and Arthur Clarke as number one. Okay, real world and Douglas Adams? Hmm, it’s humor but is it possible? In fact, some of these authors write plausible futures but probable? Not likely. Still, most of them were influential to the genre. David Brin would count as would others not mentioned, but what is really missing are the women. Saying only hard science counts, or mundane SF, might help if the list didn’t have Douglas Adams, or Ellison in that sense. Maybe there weren’t any women of influence in SF, but that’s just not true.
Ursula Le Guin is one who comes to mind. For mimicking parts of US fundamentalism mixed into politics you could even have Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, or Orwell’s 1984. Writers of long ago? What about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein? That’s spawned many a tale and Soviet experiments of truly frankensteinian nature of attaching a pup to an adult dog or two heads to a dog. But maybe she didn’t write enough. Other female authors include Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffery (oops her world is not Earth based), Sherri Tepper, James Tiptree, Kage Baker, Doris Lessing (How many other SF authors have received a Nobel prize in literature?), Pat Murphy and Pad Cadigan who had a book filled with people watching numerous weather channels or food channels and it was called food porn and weather porn. That book prophesied aspects of today.
It would have helped to name more specifically what the writers contributed. But with each of the definitions the writers of the piece gave, there were at least several authors who did fit that description. I think that a woman stepping into the SF ring alone changed the history of much and there should at least be honorable mentions. But Nichols and Thomson can redeem themselves, should they choose to do the Top Women SF Writers of all time, if they’ve read any.