Yesterdays book, Yesterday’s heroes…

Ah, yes. In the old days we had quality Nostalgia. They just don’t make it like they did when I was young. Mind you you tell the youth of today that and they won’t believe yer.

Our minds are quite good at selective retention. For conclusive proof of this look at any woman pregnant with her second child — or man entering on his second marriage. So too with ‘Golden age sf’ (for me that started about ? nine, with Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD, (which I see has been nominated for a Prometheus Award a lot of times) shortly followed by a serialization of THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER (Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt which I found part of in a tatty sf Magazine (now available as the The Complete Compleat Enchanter
, and was fascinated by – ergo, PYRAMID SCHEME

) It was full of great and wonderful books… The truth, of course was that it also had a fair amount of total drekk, but selective memory kindly got rid of most of that.

Inevitably, when the subject of the Golden age of sf comes up, we have a chorus of ‘Heinlein’ – and varying reactions to that, white hot praise, or rabid condemnation, usually depending on the whether 1)the person actually has read most of RAH’s books 2)Whether they’re a stupid camp-follower who hasn’t (or maybe one of the later ones) 3) Whether they actually understand the concept of ‘at the time of writing’ or just assume all people were born in the same year they were, went to their school, were part of their social set, faithfully absorbed the same indoctrination and thus expect all books to reflect their attitudes perfectly. We could have a jolly fun time dissecting this and the attitudes in it all.

Or we could try something completely different.

We could say ‘and who else’? Now, inevitably when you try this with one of those who has just told you what sexists/racists/misogynists the entire world of sf writers was until (depending on their age) their personal Golden age, will do a wonderful imitation of a goldfish, opening and closing their mouth until they manage to dredge up “Asimov!”. Don’t try pointing that they have several thousand other authors to go (from across the spectrum of sex, color and orientation, and political viewpoint) unless you are wearing suitable protective clothing. You really don’t want to try and clean that sort of gunk off your clothes and face, and besides it could be infectious.

Of course there were several thousand great authors, as well as some who should be forgotten as hastily as possible (this probably also depends on your viewpoint). I thought I’d dredge up a few of mine, perhaps from a different perspective and background, and you could offer a few of yours.

Clifford Simak: I often thought Simak’s ideas desperately needed better execution – because several of them had such vast book potential in them. None the less I really enjoyed his rural characters, and the fact that there was a philosophical and theological streak to the books which was neither preachy nor nasty, generally. Economics also play a role in his books, which set them apart rather. I can’t remember any major wars or conflicts, but quirky sense of humor. Simak managed to get two things very right: the sheer incomprehensibility of alien life and indeed the universe – “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” (to quote the man), yet his books almost always fitted the human wave paradigm long before it was invented or needed (and it is now). Secondly his books were always about individuals, and the ability of these to transcend vast forces. The prose is simple, easy to read. The ideas are not. That is something so frequently missing in modern sf. And I role model on the rural characters and settings. Love them. And love the fact that these folk are not presented as all stupid rednecks.
The GOBLIN RESERVATION remains one of my favorites

And THE WEREWOLF PRINCIPLE one of the better ideas in Golden age sf, that deserved a far far bigger book.

Zenna Henderson:
I was amused to seem some critics saying Henderson out-Simaked Simak. It’s small rural settings again – an alien Humanoid people, refugees trying to fit into ordinary America (how very different!) She usually used female POV, and was one of the first female sf writers to use her own name — and was very popular, far more so for her writing than say Joanna Russ.

James White: The Sector General books – White wrote hospital stories (mostly) and I think Algis Budrys was right – he had a problem that I have myself, getting so involved with characters, that coming to grips with the truly horrible scenes was not executed as well as it could be. However, he wrote very ingenious stories in the hospital setting, with some delightful aliens. White was a pacifist, and this is reflected in his stories. They still make entertaining reading -another thing that modern writers could learn from.

Poul Anderson –

If you haven’t read Poul Anderson and are trying to write sf/fantasy… you’re doing it wrong. It’d be like trying to write literary feminist… books, yes that was the word I was looking for, without reading Margaret Atwood. His heroes are heroes to breath life in a story. Yet they can be complex – even his villains are. Read it and learn, or read it and weep, as I do for the lack comparable skill. Anderson – possibly more than Heinlein for me, was the golden age craftsman. He got history right, he made me laugh and he made me weep, and he made me determined to stand tall.

Mack Reynolds: In a curious twist – in McCarthy era, as a life-long socialist, with books that often had post-capitalist utopias as their central theme, and a little later writing ‘Black Man’s Burden’ (with a black lead protagonist and hero) had reasonable success in Golden age. When that was over he struggled to get published -which kind of makes a mockery of the current revisionist history of the Golden Age of SF. I enjoyed a few of his books – where he kept to story and didn’t bury it in politics – Space Pioneer (if you ever come across it) was a real delight, with the conflict really well written – and the idea of not selling off tomorrow’s resources to foreigners for a pittance today being one I could really buy into.

Okay, your turn πŸ™‚

103 thoughts on “Yesterdays book, Yesterday’s heroes…

  1. I’m guessing a lot of my favorites aren’t quite “Golden Age”, like Larry Niven, but I grew up reading Cherryh, Clarke, and Laumer (and of course, Heinlein). And Jack Chalker and John Varley too.

    (Alas, I will never get back the time I spent on those summer camping trips plowing through Donaldson.)

    1. (chuckle) It was PLOWING wasn’t it? I kept expecting the turnaround, kept expecting the character to start being… well, worth caring about. Thomas Covenant never was IMO.

      1. It was a boom period for Fantasy back then. You had The Sword of Shanara (first Trade paperback I’d seen, it seemed huge), another Tolkien revival, the half-done Bakshi LOTR and the Rankin-Bass version that cut the legs out from under him. And so Big new Fantasy series with a lot of push behind it, stuck in a tent when it rained, I read, and read, and read. I can’t even remember much about what happened, really, but over a couple of summers I got through all 6.

        At least I wasn’t the one who bought them.

        1. I bought the first trilogy in 05 – when I was in Iraq and found it a hard read. Followed it up with the second when I was back in Iraq in 2010 – and found it a harder read. I’m not going to try the third one.

      2. The first Thomas Covenant trilogy was the greatest thing EVER when I was 14. When I tried reading it again in my 30s, though, it was (of course) nothing like I remembered it being.

      3. I still don’t know why I read the second series. It’s not like there was any likelyhood that Thomas would suddenly develop some redeeming qualities by that point.

      4. I am so glad I’m not the only one to think so. Some authors are like old Studebakers, rough starting but fine running, and others (Donaldson) are more like the Pinto, doesn’t start doesn’t run and you don’t care.

        1. Except I DID care – I wanted book to read and entertain me. Kind of like having the Pinto as the only way to get somewhere, and no alternatives, bar walking for a day or so… πŸ™‚

      5. Fortunately I heard Donaldson talk at a con, and was easily convinced to never read one of his books. Even he seemed confused on how he could write books with such despicable characters.

  2. H. Beam Piper. One of the first authors I read. Good stories and his allegorical ones have the message hidden well enough not to hammer the plot flat.

    Heinlein, Niven, Pournelle (together and separately), Cherryh, Atwood, McCaffrey, Adams, Tolkien, Burroughs (everything but Tarzan), Drake, Ringo, Freer, Hoyt, Lieber, etc and et al – the list is endless. But I don’t see that we’re out of the Golden Age of reading. Or writing for that matter. Everything may have been written or told, but the variations on the theme are what makes life interesting.

    1. I loved Burroughs. When I was thinking about this article during class, I was trying to remember my first brushes with fantasy and science fiction, and it has to be ERB and Verne (my favorite was Mysterious Island).

      1. Make sure you note it’s ERB. I made the mistake of misjudging someone who said his favorite author was Burroughs. He meant William S. Burroughs! Maybe you just run in more enlightened circles than I have.

    2. “But I don’t see that we’re out of the Golden Age of reading. Or writing for that matter.” agree strongly. But we need to encourage the better writers. It takes the bastards months to write something I read in hours. πŸ™‚

        1. yeah, but in a way relying on the back-list (which is what publishers are doing to stay afloat) is eating your seed corn. We need new writers too, to fill those roles.

    1. Well, now, that’s an interesting situation. See I was contracted to do another PS book, but Baen decided they’d rather have another Heirs book, and pay a little extra. Baen turned down the Anime offer for PS – But at that stage I thought it might come good, making a sequel a lot more valuable, so I was Okay with that. For some reason there isn’t an e-book of PS available, and their rights cling by a thread. So if and when it reverts I shall be writing that final book. Until then I see reason to reward them.

        1. Yep. From my perspective the sale of rights or royalties were not where I – or Baen would make their money, but from sales of the book and subsequent books. But their ‘Hollywood Agent’ told them the company was running around snapping up as many properties for cheap as it could and not worth doing. This, BTW, was an outright lie. I asked something like 200 other authors – not one had had an offer. And as i had retained the rights to Cuttlefish I offered them those (basically, on the same deal – the first fix is cheap – but I sell a lot of books and subsequent rights are not.) They read them and gave me no thanks, too young a target audience. My conclusion is the ‘agent’ didn’t see a big profit for himself in a small deal, and gave not one shit for Baen or Eric and I – for whom it would have been real win. Yes, I am very bitter about it.

          1. Actually, that fits with another story I recall hearing about a company looking to secure the rights of a lot of American properties, but not really following through.

  3. I loved Simak before I loved Heinlein. Heinlein just TOOK more. I still would have named 2nd boy Clifford but Dan wouldn’t let me. Not even if I promised to call him Kip. As for his ideas? Non copyrightable. I intend to swipe them.

  4. What I remember most and best of SF&F reading in the 60’s and 70’s is the scope for the imagination the writers had. Granted that they were often constrained by Blue Laws and public morality issues, they still brought out an amazing amount of speculative fiction. They drew the stories to their logical – and sometimes ludicrous – ends.
    Which was my favorite? I’d have to say that was simple.

    Which ever one I was reading at the time.

  5. Concur on Simak and Anderson. Brilliant. “Way Station” was one of my youthful icons, and Anderson’s later “Harvest the Stars” series is masterful, IMHO. (I enjoyed much of his earlier work, too, of course.)

    Walter Miller (“A Canticle for Leibowitz”) has a special place of his own. Only one book, but what a book!

    Philip JosΓ© Farmer – Riverworld.

    Jack Chalker – Well World, particularly the first, “Midnight at the Well of Souls”. Classic!

    Christopher Stasheff – fantasy with quirky humor and spirituality. A perennial favorite of mine. I can’t wait for him to release his work as an indie!

    So many others . . .

    1. I was about to chime in for Canticle.
      In addition…
      Orson Scott Card (Ender’s game, but his short stories were IMO better.)
      Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories were great. But after learning more about him, I feel a bit queasy about having been a fan.
      I’m pretty sure there’s a Stainless Steel Rat running around somewhere.
      Heinlein, Starship Troopers and some of his short stories.
      Asimov’s earlier short stories. (His later ones didn’t do much for me.)
      Pournelle, of course. Sometimes in collaboration with Niven.
      With trepidation, I submit Greg Bear. Some of his books were really good, some, just really insulting.
      Although at the later edge of my nostalgia, Michael Flynn.

      On the fantasy side, Narnia and Tolkein were my foundation.
      I recall really enjoying the fluff that David Eddings and Terry Brook put out.
      Gene Wolf.
      It was my favorite genre, and one I read all the time, but in retrospect, it’s hard to remember specific stories or authors making an impression on me.

      1. Clarke was good on ideas, but not really not much on character for my taste. Of course I read a couple of collections of his short stories, and realized all his stuff was like Henny Youngman jokes All was just a set-up for the last sentence–usually not in a humorous way though. Childhood’s End was a long way to go for a punch line, but an interesting idea nonetheless.

      1. Yay…no more haunting used book stores.

        I’m hoping more and more older authors with older books “not worth republishing” according to the majors start republishing indie.

        1. More than that, when I had an opportunity this spring to interview Mr Stasheff, he told me that traditional publishers would not buy his work. So you will see new work from him, as well. I’m promoting his stuff as much as I can, I am hoping to metaphorically thumb my nose at short-sighted publishers who abandon those who made them what they are.

          1. Cedar, please encourage Mr. Stasheff to join us here from time to time. I’d love to read his comments, and (as a fan of several decades’ standing) it would be great to be able to talk with him.

    2. I enjoyed the concept and setting for Riverworld, but was never that invested in Farmer’s characters. I preferred the ones with Kickhaha in them. I would!

      Stasheff I THINK is somewhat later, but I really loved his Warlock in spite of himself, and King Kobold. I will say that the later ones just failed to recapture that – I enjoyed them but they weren’t as ‘best ever!’ for me. That series was at least in part behind my decision to try to write multiple series and multiple subgenres, to keep it fresh. Some authors obviously can, but they are exceptions. I do not assume I’ll be one.
      I actually want to do a whole post on ‘one book wonders’ (Canticle) sometime

  6. Theodore Sturgeon. Not just my favorite (More than Human, aka The Dreaming Jewels) but also many of his short stories that remind me of a cross between detective noir and Ray Bradbury.

  7. H. Beam Piper. Dr. Jerry Pournelle. Keith Laumer. Geez. I’d have to back to Library for more.
    Robert Adams of Horseclans and “Isn’t it a pity that we spend more effort improving breeds of cattle than we do the human race?” (He too hung-over to really moderate or participate in his panel so he threw this out and let the audience take it from there…)
    So many more!

    1. Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson. I think they were the two best. Can’t forget them.
      The Flandry series was great. And the Hoka stories were magnificent. Dorsai was great and the Dilbian stories were almost as funny as the Hoka stories.
      Three Hearts and Three Lions is probably my favorite fantasy with and Operation Chaos and its sequels.
      And L. Sprague De Camp had a great fantasy in the same vein as Three Hearts and Three Lions, Land of Unreason.

      1. But do you believe in the right to arm bears :-)?
        De Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall remains one of first choice comfort reads. I had it in the army as one of my 5 books. I can quote chunks of it.

        1. Yes, when challenged to once to name the five best sf/f books I’d ever read, LEST DARKNESS FALL was one of the five. Gordon Dickson’s THE ALIEN WAY was another.

  8. “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” If Simak wrote that, he was paraphrasing J.B.S. Haldane: “The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

  9. James P. Hogan. The Giants Series (“Inherit the Stars” and its sequels), “The Proteus Operation”, “Thrice Upon a Time”, “Code of the Lifemaker”, “Voyage From Yesteryear”, and many others.

  10. Adding to the list…Henry Kuttner (my fav), and his wife, CL Moore. Also John Brunner and Andre Norton. My others have already been mentioned.

  11. Simak was interesting. He had one book (Walk Like Men?) with aliens who didn’t bother the “arguing morality of their actions”. The main character tried to argue with them about the morality of their invasion and the response was simply “that’s your morality not our morality”. Most humans who talk about “having a different moral code” will attempt to convince others that their “moral code” is better. The aliens didn’t make that attempt.

  12. Roger Zelazny……….

    “Nine Princes in Amber” started an iconic series, but that really wasn’t the best of his works. He was one of those few authors that could change his style from work to work.

    On any list of greats, he should be near the top.

    1. Loved Zelazny. The Amber series is one of the few that shows the true moral evolution of a character. Also for writers, I highly recommend My Name is Legion especially for writers. 3 novellas with the same central character, each written more than a decade apart. A textbook on how to write and how one grows as a writer.

    2. Okay Angus, I confess, I just looked it up, and I was wrong. I thought Zelazny was a 1970’s starter, which was why I excluded him from my list of authors (I agree with Silverberg that it was the 50’s decade, but I kind of expand that as far as the mid sixties and late 40’s), –
      And call me Conrad came out in 1965. I just didn’t encounter the books until the mid 70’s when i became an ardent fan. (You’ll see he is listed on for example my facebook page and biography as the major influence, along with Tom Sharpe, Georgette Heyer) I’ve tried very hard to imitate his multi-layer effect – something no other sf writer before or since has done as well. The self-depreciating humor of his characters and wry comments (paraphrase – tell them to seek me in Hades – it’s a Southern-most province in principality (Lord of Light) and in the discucussion with Ranga and Charv – ‘we see ourselves as flat-headed’ (level headed) in Doorways in the Sand still make chuckle on the 200th re-read. At the top, not near it.

      1. Oddly enough, I was first introduced to Roger Zelazny in a 1967 “Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.” That and the second segment the one about Mahasamatman were novellas in F&SF, the first in 67, and I think the second in 68. I was a senior in high school the 68-69 school year and rebelling much of it. The summer of ’69 I entered the service, so if the rest of it came out in F&SF I missed it. My dog eared copy of the novel was printed in ’71 and the copyright is ’67. Go figure….

        I would agree about Zelazny’s best work being the best. Not everything he wrote though was of that level, in my view particularly after the first five of the Amber series.

        I recently reread the “Lord of Light” to see what there was I could use in my writing, and got caught up in the story {for at least the twentieth time}.

        After building my blog, getting the art work done, and getting the first five novels published {nearly ready now}, I’ll probably reread it again. I won’t consider it a loss even if I get lost in the story again.

  13. Cordwainer Smith. Did things with prose that I’m still trying to figure out.
    James Schmitz. How to write smart superhuman characters.
    Eric Frank Russell. How people really think and act.

    1. Keith Laumer, Fred Pohl, Jack Vance, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Peter Norwood, Michael Scott Rohan, Gordon R. Dickson, Fredric Brown, and too many more for me to dig out of my bookcases, which are currently stacked three deep. Need to trade some in, I think.

      1. Ah, Laumer πŸ™‚ AND Michael Scott Rohan (although I think he’s more recent. MSR is an undervalued writer – but I think he’s a bright man and writer’s writer, rather than being a broad appeal one.

    2. Obviously – considering I was sucked in to write the Karres books (which are fanfic – sorry, there is the reality of it :-)) I enjoyed Schmitz. Demon Breed remains my favorite. EFR… a very interesting way of writing, that had a major influence on my thinking and writing. He certainly understood people. And made me laugh. I’m a major fan. Men, Martians and Machines ought to be mandatory reading for those who say golden age sf was the various ‘ists’.

        1. I’m pretty sure it isn’t fanfic if you get a license to write in the property, and get paid.

          Okay, that isn’t a good set of criteria for stuff that is out of copyright. Like Homer, Arthur, and maybe Horatio Alger.

          1. πŸ™‚ It’s very kind of you to say so, but I was a fan and wrote fiction set in their world. Therefore, to me anyway, it is fanboi imitation, and not up to the original.

            1. Well, I don’t think a collaboration, a movie novel, or a media tie in novel counts as fanfic.

              One could argue that the dividing line isn’t the legal rights, but whether the original media creator has oversight and supervision. See Super Robot Wars for example.

              As far as other dividing lines go, let’s look at Gundam. If one ‘writes’ something that is 90-95% the text of Gundam Unicorn, that is most likely plagiarism, not fanfic. If one uses the cast and setting of Gundam Wing, fanfic. If one does a multicross with only faint Gundam elements, fanfic, but maybe not Gundam fanfic. If one makes an original setting with space magic and militarily useful giant humanoid robots, and tells a story with a contrived war, press-ganged sixteen year olds, and a lot of noise about politics, it may be a Gundam pastiche, without being fanfic. If one tells stories in that same original setting that do not reference the standard Gundam formulas, they are original.

              As for niceness, I enjoyed the Karres books, and do not care very much about dividing them into different levels of canon.

  14. For me, besides all the ones mentioned here (especially Heinlein, of course), Andre Norton. I read everything of hers I could get my hands on as a kid, starting with “Moon of Three Rings.”

  15. Murray Leinster — “A Logic Named Joe” missed describing the Internet by just *that* much. Anderson. Piper. DeCamp. Van Vogt.

    1. Colonial survey/AKA/ the planet explorer remains a favorite. And one has to look at his portrayal of the cultures in that and ask how they accuse someone like this of -ism?

  16. And, for the really nostalgic space opera fiends among us, who can forget E. E. “Doc” Smith? His “Lensman” and “Skylark” series still define the genre.

  17. I love that Baen seems to be republishing a lot of these early authors. I hadn’t read any James White or Murray Leinster, to name a few, until they put it out there. Lord of the Rings was the first “big” trilogy that I remember reading as a kid (in the 5th grade). But by then I’d already been reading Heinlein, Burroughs, C.S. Lewis and Susan Cooper. Then came the subscription to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy book club that got me into Le Guin, Herbert, Harrison, Zelazny, Dickson, Patricia A. McKillip, Philip Jose Farmer, ect.. Paul Janus Finnegan/Kickaha has to be one of my favorite smart-ass characters of all time.

    I loved E.E. “Doc” Smith but haven’t read it in years and regret it.

    This topic is really making me want to go spend gobs of money “updating” my library to get some of these older books.

  18. I haven’t read any Poul Anderson. Where is a good place to start with his work?

    1. Baen has published a 5-volume set of his Technic Civilization stories. These include the Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry stories. The High Crusade might be a good standalone introduction to the author.

      1. Sweet…I’ve been trying to hunt down all the Nicholas van Rijn I haven’t read.

      2. Oops! It’s 7 volumes. Each contains the timeline of the Technic Civilization cycle, so it doesn’t really matter in what order they’re read, I do recommend reading the last four books in order, as some of the Flandry stories play off events in previous adventures.

    2. It depends -with PA – what area of the genre interests you. For Fantasy – THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS. For space opera – the Nicholas van Rijn books (trader to the stars comes to mind) – and for more military leaning – Dominic Flandry.

    3. With two or three exceptions anything Anderson did was marvelous (SHIELD comes to mind as a bad novel. THE SHIELD OF TIME, otoh, is pretty good, and has no connection with SHIELD). He was prolific and good at every type of fiction he attempted.

      THE HIGH CRUSADE is outstanding, as is his collection FANTASY (assuming you can find a copy). FANTASY contains a great story of a devil making a deal with a human, e.g., which illustrates his Anderson’s sense of humor.

      In his sf, TAU ZERO, THE DANCER FROM ATLANTIS, FIRE TIME, the collections TIME AND STARS and UNMAN, the “Time Patrol” stories, THE LONG WAY HOME, THE WINTER OF THE WORLD, THE BYWORLDER, THE MAKESHIFT ROCKET, or ORION SHALL RISE would all be good introductions.

      And if you have a taste for tragedy when done well, THE ENEMY STARS and THE NIGHT FACE are outstanding.

      I met him a couple of times at conventions. A very nice man.

  19. People have gotten most of mine but I see two missing that were really big for me.

    First is Robert Silverberg who was huge in paperback in Safeway back in the 70s. I remember getting “A Time of Changes”, “To Live Again”, “Downward to The Earth”, and “Hawkbill Station” there. I even recently re-read “Hawkbill Station” and while it’s future fascist US ruled by conservatives and opposed by Communists is very much a relic of when it was written (1968) the fundamental story holds up. This is, of course, because the politics are just a setup for an interesting story about imprisonment and finding your place. I got “Lord Valentine’s Castle” via the Sci-Fi book club. Long before that or the above paperbacks I got “Revolt on Alpha-C” at 6 or 7.

    The other is Fred Saberhagen. Bersekers are okay but the one that has stuck in my mind is the “Empire of the East” trilogy which, in checking my spelling of his name, apparently got a fourth book in 2006.

    In something of a tangent to this post, whenever the usual suspects crow about the Evil League of Evil and their fans having no place in modern sci-fi I think of lists like this. There are a handful of Heinlein’s books I have yet to read and a ton by the two authors here. The same is true among many favorite authors. If they could somehow crush indie and then impose their leftie ideas on all new books I suspect it wouldn’t help them economically. There are more already written books that I haven’t read than I’ll get to read. When my nephews start wanting things to read will I point them to the dreck writing the GHH brigade or the SJW special forces because that’s in print? Nope, I’ll point them to the classics I loved.

    1. Don’t forget the Books of Swords and the Books of Lost Swords by Saberhagen. Truly good fantasy works.

    2. I enjoyed Lord Valentine’s Castle, and um, my first attempt at writing sf/fantasy – which I have yet to have the courage to bring out myself, was er… rather Saberhagen Empire of the East derivitave πŸ™‚

  20. Lloyd Biggle Jr is not on any of your lists? Inconceivable!
    The Still Small Voice of Trumpets is now on ebook, by the way. All The Colors of Darkness, also.
    He still makes me think.

    Operation: Chaos (Poul Anderson) is a much-loved re-read.

  21. Alfred Bester, Jack Vance, Phil Dick, AE van Vogt, Jack Vance, James Blish, Theodore Strugeon, Jack Vance… did I mention Jack Vance?

  22. Hum… How about Harry Harrison? The Stainless Steel Rat, of course, along with Deathworld. Oh, and for those looking for bi-gender fun, how about Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers! Let me see… Here’s a little bit from the final chapter.

    … They sat and watched Jerry and Chuck slowly disengage. The two boys looked up and realized they were being watched, and blushing, drew away from each other.

    “No, that’s all right,” Sally said, smiling with understanding. “I’ve known for a long time that you both were AC-DC, and I was waiting for you to make your mind up which way you were finally going to jump. I know why you keep that cot in the laboratory.”

    Of course, this is also the author who wrote Make Room! Make Room! Which I believe is where we got Soylent Green?

    1. Harry Harrison’s Stainless steel rat book were my second data series in deciding I needed not to get trapped in one series πŸ™‚ He had some very interesting ideas – the generation ship one whose name escapes me right now, the Technicolor Time Machine. (Can I ever forget Snorry/Snorri! of the seven dwarves?) and of course Bill, the Galactic Hero.

    2. πŸ˜€ The scene I remember best from that book is the one where Sally smashes one of the guys on the head with the coffee pot or something when she is trying to tell her (good) idea to them, and they are too busy talking to each other to give her a listen.

  23. One thing not mentioned is word count back then vs word count today. Most of the stories mentioned above had a word count somewhere between 50k and 75k.

    In my view, when word counts started going up in many of the novels of the late 80’s going forward, the “content” of the story was the same as many of the earlier stories. They were just padded.

    The word processor was a great new tool, and made writing a thing many could aspire to.

    In my view, also led to some abuses. Well, may that’s too strong a term. It made for a more creative way to write.

    Back in the fifties and sixties, a lot of “pocket books” went to work with a blue collar worker, either in his back pocket, or in his lunch box. He read it on the bus, and at lunch. The size of the book reflected the use.

    The genre stories then, mystery, spy {Matt Helm and the like}, sf, fantasy, etc, all were roughly the same length. Most of them had a lot of “content” compared to most modern fare.

    Larry Correia may be an outlier. He writes the big novels, but they’re action from beginning to end. Probably why he’s so popular.

    So, in my view, it’s not entirely the fact that the buyers at the big five are pink shirts, it’s that a lot of novels that have gotten by these gatekeepers have a bit of “filler” in them. A lot of modern novels don’t really have any more “content” than the stories mentioned above, but they’re bigger. Filled with various types of “fillers”.

    I also tend to think there are editors that expect “filler” in the stories. You can call it character development, background color, whatever. But if it doesn’t add to the story, I for one am not interested. The gatekeepers have gotten away from thinking about the customer base, and think about their literary biases instead…….

    My views.

    1. Angus, I suspect a lot of the filler was Publishers compensating for the fact that they were charging more. We get told what length to write, and that’s one of the things I really love about the whole e-book scene – for me a natural length depends on the character cast (and the number of threads as a result), so I’ve had to up the thread/character count. That’s hard, harder to make a book flow. They didn’t pay authors more, but readers thought they were getting more bang for their buck. I’m a fairly terse writer – possibly because I learned my trade writing shorts – which was how most of the older writers did, but the noobs couldn’t as the shorts market had tanked (in part because I think they were buying literary crap, not beer money entertainment). I do hope this is going to turn around with independent publishing – and that the niche of $2.99 book – 40-60K words that’s good entertainment for a few hours can become widespread again. I think it’s a gap in what is available to readers.

      1. Filler and padding. For a short period of time I was working with a small group of writers. The writer’s manager or editor, whatever you’d like to call him, had a tendency to rewrite stuff. He wasn’t a real fan of action or adventure, and he would use TV to make his point.

        He’d mention a cop opera program, where the protagonists would be getting ready to do their raid or arrest, then after the break, you would have the after action discussion. No action, all dialogue…..

        Turn in a 20k novella, he’d edit/rewrite it to a 17k novella with 70% of the action cut out……. a lot of unrecognizable filler replacing the action.

        Anyway, I think I’m hijacking the thread. For the fellow that asked about Poul Anderson, one of the best things you could read is :
        “No Truce With Kings”

        It was a classic back then, and its a classic now. It’s a novella, so you’ll find it in an anthology of his shorter works……

        1. It seemed a sensible threadjack to me. This is principally a writer’s site after all. That’s one I have never hit myself, although I have been asked for more dialogue and more (shudder) introspection. One of my co-authors had the habit of getting half way through an action scene and then having the hero — narrowly avoiding being knifed in the gut, fighting for his life… start thinking about how unhappy his childhood was. People may brood on their unhappy childhood, but, speaking from a lifetime of doing silly, dangerous things, not in the middle of action. Not ever.

          Dialogue in general tends to grow books – it takes longer to have a conversation about a knifing in the same amount of detail as it does to just describe it. The only way to make it shorter would be to lose the details. That’s only going to work in a tiny number of writers.

          1. You can do that – the sideways quasi-flashback – but it’s got to be in something other than tight third, and it really takes a light touch. And it still has to advance the plot. Not the entire arc, but that scene itself. I think Kate does it well in the Con books, and there’s a mechanism in place to allow for it. It can’t be just “Hurm da Barburian dodged the Ebil Sorceror’s emerald-green bolt of ebil power, and thought to himself, “y’know, Dad was a jerk for making me work too hard in the fields and grow all dese huge muscles. I sure wish we’d had writin’ and spent moar time in philosophical introspection. My life would be more whole; well-rounded.”” Doesn’t really work as well, y’know?

          2. To pick up a little from your previous post, I’ve felt for some time that there was an under served market today that the novels by the authors listed above filled. The shorter novels gave people something to read, something light to read that they could feel good about before heading to bed. Something enjoyable.

            Everyone’s tastes are different, but there was enough variety for nearly everyone. As an action fan, I could usually find enough, even if I had to cross genres occasionally. Louis L’Amour filled several evenings for me.

            Today we’re fortunate that we can study what they did if we want to see how old masters did something. Want to have an idea how to do a martial arts fight, or a sword fight? Yes, experience in a martial art might help, but seeing how Louis L’Amour did a fist fight could help one’s tool box. It wouldn’t hurt to read Robert Howard too.

            A L’Amour fist fight generally ran between 1200 and 2000 words. Robert Howard’s fight scenes were fairly short too, there were just a lot of them.

            Get stuck on how to carry a story forward? H Beam Piper might be the guy to look at.

            Want to have a James Bond “love ’em and leave ’em” action story with some boyish ideas on romance? Flandry did it better {Poul Anderson}.

            Want to have a first person adventure with some humor mixed in? Glen Cook’s Tunfaire series is just the thing for you.

            The biggest thing is self discovery. Who are you as a person? What do you like to read? How do you express yourself? Because you’re unlikely to be able to use everything that might be instructive for others.

            I tried reading Correia for ways to do a couple things and learned that I can read him for enjoyment, but I won’t be able to use what he does. I really enjoyed a thirty thousand + word battle he did, but there is no way in heck I’d be able to do something like that. Even if I intended to write a 150k+ word novel.

            Etc and so on…….

            1. πŸ™‚ But there are few other things to pick up in Correia’s books. L’Amour did great fist fights (because, duh, he was writing what he knew) but there is quite a lot to picked out of his descriptive pieces.

              Shorter novels are coming around again, I reckon. Pricing may start to reflect length – as it probably should.

              1. I agree with you about Larry’s novels. I just don’t think I’m “developed” enough as a writer to do anything with them, except thoroughly enjoy them.

                Besides, at this stage of things, I intend to stay in the “classic” novel range. Of the five novels I have ready to publish, three of them are between 65k and 70k, one is 83k, and the last is 98

                For the short term, I need to look at a couple of H Beam Piper’s stuff, and I want to reread “Skyliners” and “Galloway” from L’Amour. That cover to cover action stuff is fun, but I still need to learn a little bit more about character development, background color, etc while doing the action. L’Amour’s classic stuff always leaves me feeling like I could see the surrounding countryside, and like I got to know the characters. All with a lot of action.

  24. I fondly remember most all of the authors mentioned here. Did anyone say Alfred Bester? And I thank my 6th grade teacher for reading us Daybreak 2250 AD by Andre Norton in our English class.

    1. Oh, that must be where Babylon 5 got the name for the Psi-Corps Cop. I haven’t read that story yet but coincidence? I think not.

      1. Ok did some more research after reading this and I was wrong. Bester was a tribute to the Author Alfred Bester, whom I havn’t read… yet.

        1. Not only was the character name a tribute to Alfred Bester, in one of the B5 novels, another character named him after Alfred Bester. [Smile]

  25. The Golden Age of SF was fourteen. When I was fourteen, the great sf authors writing or recently deceased that I remember were:

    Robert Heinlen
    Isaac Asimov
    Clifford B. Simak
    Poul Anderson
    Edgar Rice Burroughs
    Hal Clement
    Arthur C. Clarke
    Randall Garrett
    H. Beam Piper
    Keith Laumer
    L. Sprague de Camp
    Henry Kuttner
    C. L. Moore
    Andre Norton
    James Schmitz
    Eric Frank Russell
    Frederic Brown
    Murray Leinster
    Alfred Bester
    A. E. van Vogt
    John W. Campbell
    Harry Harrison

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