'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

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'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby Terry Tornado on Sunday, 22 June 2014, 1:33 pm

I would like to say up front that I think this is an excellent web site, and I am sorry to see that it has become somewhat moribund. The links to Amazon and ABEBooks no longer seem to work, so I am concerned that the creator of the site is deriving no revenue from it. I have enjoyed this site for a while and there are authors such as Charles G. Finney, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Mervyn Peake that I would probably never have read had I not seen them recommended on this site.
The creator (Owlcroft) clearly has a definite point of view and a sense of style, and the authors he recommends are all highly enjoyable. His point of view does, I think, lead him to overlook a type of literary quality which many more 'orthodox' readers of science fiction do recognize. In the spirit of being a devil's advocate, and in the hope of perhaps kicking off some worthwhile discussion, I wondered if I could assemble twelve five star masters from names that are not in this site, without lowering the level of literary quality: twelve names with the same sort of literary sweep as Owlcroft's. That would be a bit of a task, since to assemble my own personal list of twelve star masters I would have liked to poach some of Owlcroft's, but in the spirit of the game, I came up with a list of twelve who are excluded from this site and who, in my more 'orthodox' eyes, are worthy of recognition. So I am now proposing a 'dark twin' twelve five star masters:

Isaac Asimov
Arthur C. Clarke
Philip K. Dick
Frank Herbert
Aldous Huxley
Madeleine L'Engle
George Orwell
Mary Shelley
Jules Verne
Kurt Vonnegut
H. G. Wells
Yevgeny Zamyatin

And I still have William Gibson in my back pocket.
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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby DavidTate on Thursday, 26 June 2014, 7:20 pm

Terry,

I apologize for not replying sooner, but I've been pretty busy lately and haven't had time to put together coherent thoughts on your list. I will note that the subject of Isaac Asimov's qualifications has come up before in these forums; you might want to search on the name.

I hope to get a chance to contribute an actual reply this weekend sometime.

David
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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby DavidTate on Saturday, 05 July 2014, 11:55 am

Terry Tornado wrote:The creator (Owlcroft) clearly has a definite point of view and a sense of style, and the authors he recommends are all highly enjoyable. His point of view does, I think, lead him to overlook a type of literary quality which many more 'orthodox' readers of science fiction do recognize.
If you are right, it would be interesting to identify what dimension of 'quality' this is, and whether it is really different from the dimensions Owlcroft discusses in his Apologia (in which case the word overlooking might be appropriate), or whether he simply disagrees about how good these authors are at it.

But I can't speak for him. I'll restrict myself to a few comments on my own experiences with those of these authors that I've read.

Isaac Asimov -- Extremely popular pulp author of 'idea' stories whose career lasted far beyond the end of the pulps. His best stories take a single intriguing "what if?" sort of idea, put it in a context, and extrapolate consequences, possibly with a surprise twist. Unfortunately, his prose skills are workmanlike at best and clunky at worst, and his attempts at writing romance, drama, and pathos tend to be... unsuccessful. (I once described Asimov as author who isn't harmed by speed-reading.)

Is an idea enough? For me, sometimes, yes -- but I'll note that Owlcroft is explicitly disparaging of "what if?" stories in his Apologia, so I think we can guess that he doesn't get the same kick out of them that many SF readers do.

Best stories: "The Last Question", "Nightfall", "Green Patches", "The Dead Past", "The Bicentennial Man"
Best novel: The Gods Themselves

For his body of work, on Owlcroft's scale, I think zero stars is about right.

Arthur C. Clarke -- another massively popular author of about the same period. Similar to Asimov in some ways. His big ideas were fewer and farther between, but he was a much better craftsman as a writer. More famous as a novelist than a story-writer, unlike Asimov.

His 'masterpiece', Childhood's End, never really grabbed me. Several of his novels were enjoyable, but (again like Asimov) he's one of the authors whose work led to the quip "The golden age of science fiction is thirteen." I'm glad to have read The Fountains of Paradise and Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I wouldn't miss them either. I'm more glad to have read the short stories "Superiority" and "Hide and Seek" and "The Star" and "The Nine Billion Names of God" -- all of them idea stories in the Asimov mode.

That's a start; I'll try to get back later for more. In the meantime, I hope someone else chimes in.
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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby Terry Tornado on Saturday, 05 July 2014, 12:55 pm

The twelve authors on my list are all authors I remember having read with enjoyment, but haven't revisited in a long time. I have decided to reread some of their works to see how well they hold up.
So far, I have to admit, I'm disappointed.
I reread Frankenstein, and I found it badly written. The narrative is clunky and the prose is overwrought. Not worth rereading.
I am currently rereading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I am finding it very hard to finish. The narrative is constantly being brought to a halt so the characters can enumerate the various phyla and species of sealife they observe. The characters themselves are quite wooden (with the exception of Captain Nemo who is a little more flexible, we'll call him cardboard). Perhaps this overly scientific description of the various mollusks and cetaceans to be found at the sea bottom was eye opening in 1870, but it currently is very boring. There's not much to the plot: it's basically just a travel log of the various places the Nautilus travels to. As a boy I loved Jules Verne, and read as much of his works as I could get my hands on, but now I can't understand why. Perhaps I just hadn't read enough literature to be able to judge. Or perhaps it was the movie of 20,000 Leagues that I particularly remember with enjoyment.
As to Arthur C. Clarke, I also was not particularly grabbed by Childhood's End, but I remember Rendezvous With Rama as being a very good read. I am looking forward to getting back to it.
I'll report more as I continue my rereading.
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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby DavidTate on Saturday, 05 July 2014, 10:18 pm

Terry Tornado wrote: So I am now proposing a 'dark twin' twelve five star masters:

Continuing down the list:

Philip K. Dick

I haven't read much by Dick -- a few short stories, and the novel Ubik. I liked them fine, but they weren't classics. I realize that his reputation is based on other works, but I really have no interest in reading The Man in the High Castle, nor even Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Someone else will have to chime in here.

Frank Herbert

I will confess that I think the original novel Dune is a timeless SF classic. It's not flawless, but it is nevertheless awesome. I'd score it three or four stars on Owlcroft's scale.

After that... it's not good. The next Dune book was readable; the one after that less readable; the ones after that, painful. The one non-Dune book that I read was completely forgettable.

So, hats off to Herbert for penning a classic. I wish he'd stopped there.

Madeleine L'Engle

I really really loved the "Wrinkle in Time" series when I was a kid, and it held up pretty well to re-reading in my 20's. I haven't been back since, though, so I don't know for sure how I would feel about her works today.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I like Vonnegut a lot more than Owlcroft does. I think Slapstick and Slaughterhouse Five are great novels, and Player Piano and Cat's Cradle are very good ones. I haven't read much else.

I'll also note in passing that Tom Shippey compares J.R.R. Tolkien directly to Vonnegut (and George Orwell) in his critical works about Tolkien, drawing parallels between them as 20th-century writers responding to the Great War and the rise of totalitarianism. Shippey is always worth reading.

George Orwell
Aldous Huxley
Mary Shelley
Jules Verne
H. G. Wells
Yevgeny Zamyatin
William Gibson

I haven't read enough of any of these to comment. I will note that I have been told that Verne is poorly-served by the early translations of his works into English, somewhat like what has been said of Stanislaw Lem. I have read Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth in translation. The former was diverting, the latter boring. But see the above caveat.
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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby ArnoKA on Friday, 11 July 2014, 3:43 am

Many thanks to Terry Tornado and David Tate for an interesting and important discussion!

Tastes vary, not only from reader to reader, but also during the lifetime of an individual reader. In my early teenage I first time experienced the famous "Sense of Wonder" reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels, having before read both Verne and Wells with no comparable effect.

I think it is normal that the maturing reader gives more and more attention to the quality of the writing, but I also think that "five star mastery of style" is not as all-important as in Owlcroft's opinion.
There are other things as important for enjoying SF&F. For me, the most important thing in a writer is that I find him/her agreeable in his opinions, and with sufficient sense of humor and wit . The style -- enough that it is adequate for his purpose.

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Re: 'Dark twin' Twelve Five Star Masters

Postby Terry Tornado on Friday, 05 September 2014, 10:55 am

I've been rereading H. G. Wells, and it is quite a thrill. I hadn't looked at anything he wrote since I was in my teens, and I feel like I'm rediscovering him. The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon, they're all great. And it's hard to imagine a finer sf story than The Time Machine.
Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is a difficult read. There is a good deal of satire that must have been more cogent in 1923 than it is today, and the style hasn't worn well. The whole area of Russian sf is pretty overlooked here in the USA, and Zemyatin's other works are difficult to find. Zemyatin's fellow dissident Mikhail Bulgakov is included on this site with good cause. They both owe a lot to Gogol and Dostoyevsky.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World holds up well in my opinion. Huxley is a very good writer, the characters are drawn with depth and psychological insight, and the philosophical implications are deep and chilling. I feel this is an important book, both because of what it has to say about the human condition and because of its place in the history of the genre. It's one of those books that seems to have an importance that puts its purely literary quality in the shadow.
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