How much time do you spend reading SF classics vs. general SF?

J-Sun

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Apologies to GOLLUM for only slightly varying his thread (http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/532553-how-much-time-do-you-spend-reading-literary.html) but I was curious about the same thing from an SF perspective. And using "classic" in a strict sense would be fine, but I'm using it more in just an "old" sense. :) (I tend to explore authors I like beyond their absolute "classics" to one degree or another and I'm including those here.)

When I first began reading SF, it was with a handful of classics by accident. For awhile after that, when I didn't know any history of the field (or much of anything about it) I read randomly and, while the emphasis was definitely on contemporary books, there was a good mix of classics. (The reprint market was far better then.) Then I went through a pretty long focused period of classic-hunting, which is still ongoing, really, though it's more in the "whittle down the To Be Read pile" than it is finding more. But I still try to read the occasional new thing and hope to return to a more random/mixed period - I don't see either classics or new stuff ever ending. But, now, I'm probably at least 75% classic. It'd probably be good to eventually reverse that.

How about you - does the history of the field matter to you? Do you like/dislike/treat as equal classics or contemporaries? Do/did you spend a lot of time on one or the other?
 
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antiloquax

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Interesting question. I think I spend more time on the classics. That's partly because I am aware of them as a result of things like the Masterworks series. Also, like you, I read quite a lot of the classics when I was younger (Asimov, Wells, Verne etc).
Also, with the "classics" there's a very good chance I am going to enjoy them - since so many readers have enjoyed them in the past. Newer writers can sometimes be a riskier proposition. I do also have a fairly strong desire to read the classic SF novels, because I want a good knowledge of the history of the genre I enjoy so much.
 

Fried Egg

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My SF reading (like my reading in reading in general) is very much dominated by the classics. Mainly because I find the classics more to my liking. I do like to throw in some more contemporary stuff when I can just to have some feel for what's going on at the moment but invariably I keep going back into the past for the most part.
 

Extollager

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Classic sf for sure.

For short fiction, the many sf anthologies of Groff Conklin have been good resources. One can often pick them up through used book dealers for just a few dollars, and they'll always include some very good stories.

Many of the classic novels can be had inexpensively, too (and also I don't feel compelled to own all the sf that I read).

Conversely, I generally avoid stuff written since about 1980 -- so when someone does know of truly good reading from then on, I may be interested to learn of it. But by around that time, authors were getting word processors (I guess) on the one hand, and editorial standards were slipping (I guess), and books were getting longer. I think sf generally works best in the short story, novella, and short novel lengths. There are some long sf novels that are good (Earth Abides), but I'm doubtful that there are very many. I would be curious to read the comments of any veteran readers who would like to recommend long (let's say 400+ pages) sf novels that are really good and need so many pages.
 

j d worthington

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Errr... Dale... you consider Earth Abides to be long?:confused:;)

What are we talking about when we say "old" in this context? To many readers, that would be anything published before 1990. To me, that might be anything published before 1926.....

I don't tend to draw that much of a distinction, as I see sf as sf, under most circumstances -- unless there is a specific reason for me to look at it through a different lens. I grew up with the Golden Age stuff (and things written before that); but by my teens I was well into the New Wave, which has remained one of my favorite movements in the genre; Cyberpunk was somewhat less to my liking, but still had some fine work... and so on.

I suppose with me it would tend toward the older works (pre-late-1980s, say), but this is more accident than intent, and largely because, for the past few years, I've read relatively little sf, not that much modern fantasy (in the usual sense of that term), and concentrating more on the "weird" tale, for specific reasons dealing with my research and writing....
 

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When I first started reading sf all I read were classics since that was all that was available to me in the library. However, when I started getting some pocket money I started buying and reading more contemporary sf, but I also continued to read classic sf, but a little less.

Now I have read a lot of classic sf over the years so, but I would say that classic sf only comprises about 5% of my sf reading, either works I haven't read or will reread.

Mind you, a lot of what I would have considered contemporary is now classic.
 

Extollager

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Errr... Dale... you consider Earth Abides to be long?:confused:;)


Yes, as science fiction novels go. I take it that Earth Abides was one of the longest sf novels around till they started getting so long in the Eighties or so. What other "long" sf novels were there, let's say 40-odd years ago? Books over 400 pages. Dune... Lord of Light...

(And I haven't looked at my copy of Earth Abides, but it seems to me it's 350-400 pages or so.)

Sf novels were typically a couple of hundred pages long or shorter, surely.
 

Extollager

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I've asked this before -- can anyone name any science fiction novels, as published in book form (I am not referring to possibly truncated versions as magazine serials) that would have benefited from being significantly longer?

But now, almost any new sf novel is pretty long. With pages and pages of dialogue. Dialogue is easy to write (although good dialogue might not be easy to write). I invite anyone to put a stack of any half dozen classic sf novels on one side and a stack of any six sf novels published in the past few years on the other. Crack them open. I will bet you that every one of the newer books contains lots of dialogue. The older books will have some, but much of the time the author is telling the story with narrative and descriptive passages.

Ugh! At least there's no law that says I have to read the new stuff. So I will exercise my freedom to avoid (most of) it and to read the good old stuff.

I note, by the way, that two of the best recent sf novels -- Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and McCarthy's The Road -- are not long. I don;t have copies at hand, but I don't think they wallow in pages of blathering dialogue either.
 

j d worthington

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Yes, as science fiction novels go. I take it that Earth Abides was one of the longest sf novels around till they started getting so long in the Eighties or so. What other "long" sf novels were there, let's say 40-odd years ago? Books over 400 pages. Dune... Lord of Light...

(And I haven't looked at my copy of Earth Abides, but it seems to me it's 350-400 pages or so.)

Sf novels were typically a couple of hundred pages long or shorter, surely.

In that context, you're probably right (though, as I recall -- I don't have my copy here at home; it's in storage -- it was less than 300 pp. in length... about the same length as A Canticle for Leibowitz, if I remember correctly.

SF novels that were that long... well, there's Stranger in a Strange Land, of course; Starship Troopers came close to that, as I recall; actually, quite a few before the mid-1960s. Just looking at those which were nominated for the Hugo award, we'd have Leibowitz, Glory Road, The Wanderer, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Stranger, Stand on Zanzibar, And Call Me Conrad (This Immortal), Lord of Light, The Sheep Look Up....

But yes, on the whole, sf novels were much more compact then... and though they may have had a great deal of dialogue (this would depend on the writer), the dialogue was seldom bloated or aside from the point, as one sees in various novels now (both in and out of the sff genres)....
 

Quokka

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I started off pretty random, picking books by what I found on the shelves or what got an interesting mention on SFF Chronicles. Then I picked up Flowers from Algernon from the SF Masterworks series and that pretty much ruined me :).

I have a mini goal now of reading my way through the SF Masterworks collection, the original 70 odd release then I'll think about the new stuff. That's taken most of my SF reading although I do try to keep reading some non-fiction, non SFF fiction, Fantasy and new SF... it's no wonder a lot of our to be read piles are huge.

I love how reading through SF Masterworks you get a new author and new style each read but the vast majority of the stories add at least a few titles I'd like to read by the author, some classics and some contempory.


Once I finish the SF Masterworks series I'd like to focus more on new authors.... but then I've so neglected fantasy as well... and short stories... and so many other books!
 

Fried Egg

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An example of good SF novels that are long and needed to be: any of the books in the Helliconia trilogy by Brian Aldiss.

Although generally, I do prefer brevity and I agree that it is a problem generally with modern novels that seem to be needlessly padded out.

I have read a few classic SF novels (by the likes of Poul Anderson, A.E. Van Vogt, etc.) in which it occurred to me that they might have benefitted from being slightly longer but it's not often that I think that.
 

Quokka

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*The Invisible Man SPOILERS*

Ok maybe not spoilers but I always like to put a warning up before discussing a book in a general book thread.

Funnily enough I finished The Invisible Man (HG Wells) yesterday and my first thought was it could have been better if it was longer, although it was serialised before being printed as a novel so maybe it doesnt count?

I never really believed the central character, he's very angry and impulsive all through the story, I was left thinking it was more his own mental state rather than being invisible that leads to his actions. It reads like a horror story with the monster on the loose but I wonder how the book would have read if it had been longer in length and time frame and Griffen's madness and feelings of seperation from society/humanity built up over a longer period of invisibility.

Like I said it was serialised before printing as a novel and is still a very good read but IMO a more psychological thriller as Griffen retreated from humanity could have really worked.



Anyway the brevity of classic SF books is definitely a part of why I like them, particuarly over fantasy with it's 47 book storylines. There's been several books where the overall story is ok but I've really enjoyed them for one or two good ideas that are explored nice and quickly and not padded out when they're not needed to be.
 

J-Sun

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Interesting replies, all. I'm slightly surprised but it seems like classics are pretty well dominating this thread. (I didn't think contemporary would, but thought it'd be more even.)

...I generally avoid stuff written since about 1980...books were getting longer. I think sf generally works best in the short story, novella, and short novel lengths. There are some long sf novels that are good (Earth Abides), but I'm doubtful that there are very many. I would be curious to read the comments of any veteran readers who would like to recommend long (let's say 400+ pages) sf novels that are really good and need so many pages.

I'm right there with you. You might be interested in this thread on big books. As far as long books that need to be, I'm not sure there really are any but I will say that there are a very few whose length isn't a problem for me - Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep/A Deepness in the Sky are way way over 400 pages (at 612/774 in my paperbacks) but I tore through them quickly and enjoyed them a lot. He really does pack them. Greg Egan usually stays under 400 but, the time or two he's gone over (Distress, about 450) didn't bother me. Sterling the same, where Distraction (about 530) is his long one. But I like the era when almost everything was the ideal 192 pages. :) For short fiction, there are some masterpiece short short stories but I tend to prefer the novelettes and novellas to go with the novels. c.20-192 pages.
 

antiloquax

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I would be curious to read the comments of any veteran readers who would like to recommend long (let's say 400+ pages) sf novels that are really good and need so many pages.

Well, of things I have read recently, Eon springs to mind. 512 pages (in SF Masterworks edition) and never a dull moment.
Also Grass, at 544 pages, didn't feel like a long book (read on my kindle). It is so good, I didn't ever feel it was too big.

Mind you, I like a good, short, SF novel as much as the next reader!:D
 

D_Davis

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Typically, in general, I tend to read SF published before 1980.

As mentioned earlier, I tend to like shorter novels, and, in general, avoid series.

I also buy a lot of books based on the cover art, and post-'80s cover art is generally terrible. :)
 

D_Davis

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I would be curious to read the comments of any veteran readers who would like to recommend long (let's say 400+ pages) sf novels that are really good and need so many pages.


One I can recommend is Version 43, by Philip Palmer. Loved this book to death. It's hilarious, ultra-violent, creative, incredibly entertaining, and thought-provoking. One of the very best books I've read this year.
 

Extollager

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I also buy a lot of books based on the cover art, and post-'80s cover art is generally terrible. :)


In fact, how much after about 1973 is much good? It seems to me that it was around then that paperback cover art -- on American books anyway -- for both sf and fantasy often became dully "literal." Put it this way, that before then you had fantasy books with cover art by Gervasio Gallardo, Bob Pepper, Robert Lo Grippo, etc. After that, the Hildebrandts and Darrell Sweet... gaaahh!
 

Quokka

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Not sure I count as a veteran reader (does that come with a discount card?) but Frank Herbert's Dune is 500ish and not a page wasted and Kim Stanely Robinson's Mars trilogy is one of the few sf ideas I've read that has been worth spending three books on, but then terraforming takes time.

Just checked and Hyperion by Dan Simmons also scrapes over the 400 pages, a bit like Dune it's another case where I liked the series (only read 3 of the 4) but I loved the original book.

Edit: Actually looking at the shelf there's quite a few 400+ books that I wouldn't consider long or drawn out. 700-1000 like some of the larger Fantasy series would be a lot harder though.
 

Connavar

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I prefer classic fiction in general to contemporary fiction. Classic means they are usually classic for good reason.

A Vance,PKD book or Heinlein book i prefer over some newer SF author trying to find his way. I would say i read 60-70% of the times classic SF. Classsic meaning books atleast 40 years old. Classic SF in my eyes 100+ years up to 1970s. 40 years old is enough to be old, classic in its field.

Richard Morgan is the only new SF author i read as often as my classic favs. Its nothing personal its just the author who are the best reads to me.

I would not care if Jack Vance was newer SF authors in 40s today like i dont like his writing because he is a legend in the field. Its all about the writing ability, storytelling ability.
 

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