The Basic Science Fiction Library, 1975

The first meeting of the Nova Mob for 1975, on Jan 2nd, discussed the Basic Science Fiction Library.

They started by considering the List from Lee Harding.

Basic for whom? Anyone, when pressed, should be able to name their favourite (12) sf books. This has not been my intention. I have chosen a list of titles I would recommend to anyone not yet acquainted with the genre – in particular schools and other libraries — and i would use all or any one of them to convert educated readers to sf. My intention has been to produce a short list of relatively permanent value: one that will not be made unfashionable by social progress of literary pretentiousness. So: a Basic Library of SF for all time (one hopes):

  1. Earth Abides George R Stewart. The definitive catastrophe novel; well-written and, in this respect, well ahead of the competition.
  2. Tiger! Tiger!* Alfred Bester. The best example of what has been loosely termed ‘wide-screen baroque sf’, and easily the most entertaining sf novel ever written. [* also known as The Stars My Destination]
  3. The Silver Locusts* Ray Bradbury. He has his detractors, and no one will deny that his later work, chocolate fudge and all, has tarnished a reputation that once burned brighter than any other sf star. But time cannot efface the weird lyricism of these tales. They helped sf to take a giant leap into literature and influenced a generation of writers. It is good to reflect on that.
    [* aka The Martian Chronicles]
  4. Space Lords Cordwainer Smith. His unique vision of a far-out future deeply reflecting our past hardly needs any introduction. These stories seem to best typify his remarkable output… but it’s hard to choose.
  5. Hot House Brian Aldiss. Chosen to best represent the far, far, future sub-genre. Aldiss’ apocalyptic vision of a world gone mad with vegetation is surely one of the most extravagant in all sf.
  6. The Science Fiction Hall of Fame ed Robert Silverberg. This is volume 1 of the series, but any one of them will suffice. The more one digs into the sf past the more it becomes apparent that the best material has been under novel length…
  7. Cities in Flight James Blish. The one volume Avon edition, naturally. Of all the so-called ‘epics’ of sf, this one seems to me the most satisfying. Blish’s imagination continues to soar when lesser writers give out, and his prose remains constantly readable where, say, the Asimov of Foundation time hasn’t aged at all well.
  8. The Nine Billion Names of God Arthur C Clarke. When it came to selecting a one-author collection, Clarke’s seemed the one best suited to display the short storey medium. he has the hard-science approach of many of is compatriots — Anderson, Clement, Niven, etc. — but blended with the gentle poetry I have been convinced best represents a ‘sense of wonder’.
  9. The Man in the High Castle Philip K Dick. A fine, smoothly-written novel that best typifies the sf predilection of playing with alternative possibilities. Quiet, moving and richly detailed; possibly the best book Dick has done.
  10. The Sirens of Titan Kurt Vonnegut. Chosen because it is such a damn fine book — probably the only one to match Tiger! Tiger! for sheer entertainment.
  11. The Paradox Men Charles L Harness. Sorry, but I just had to slip this one in. It overlaps with the bester book — both being superior examples of wide-screen baroque. But it has so many brilliant passages that cry out for examination and appreciation that I had to put it in.
  12. The Short Stories of H G Wells This needs no special reading: here a re just about all the plot elements of every sf story you have ever read. Wells was a master story teller, then and now. I know of mo better way to begin an odyssey into short story sf than this marvellous volume.

Well, there it is. One final word: my selections have been soundly based on availability of the works mentioned. Bearing in mind the basic premise of the above library, I feel this is essential.

Have fun,

Lee Harding

—— from John Foyster’s Nova Mob Leaflet, Jan 1975, reproduced by Bruce Gillespie as part of his incomplete history of the Nova Mob, *brg* 102