Visions of Paradise

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Best Writer of the Decade, part 2

It will come as no surprise that Robert A. Heinlein was the most important writer of the 1940s. His influence grew through that decade and the 1950s when his series of young adult novels created an entire generation of “Heinlein’s children.” However, my favorite writer of the 1940s was Clifford D. Simak, whose pastoral science fiction appealed to me much moreso than any pre-1960s writer. It is perhaps best seen in his fixup novel City about the future of Earth under the care of evolved dogs and robots.

The most important writer of the 1950s is Arthur C. Clarke, who is rightfully remembered as one of the “Big Three” of sf’s Golden Age (along with Isaac Asimov who wrote most of his groundbreaking stuff in the same two decades as Heinlein and Clarke). Nobody popularized science or created so much sense of wonder about the future as Clarke in novel such as The City and The Stars and Childhood’s End.

But my favorite writer of the 1950s is Poul Anderson whose hard science fiction, fantasies, and future histories combine thoughtfulness with outstanding plotting more than almost any other sf writer. I am very pleased that Baen Books is currently reprinting all of his Polesotechnic League and Terran Empire stories.

Onto the 1960s where the most important writer and my favorite writer as well is Roger Zelazny, who melded science fiction with fantasy better than anybody before or after. Novels such as Lord of Light and This Immortal also featured the writing style of a poet whose love of words made every line glow. It is hard to imagine the “New Wave” having as much influence as it did without the fiction of Roger Zelazny to popularize it.

After the experimentation of the 1960s, the 1970s were a decade of “retrenching,” in which science fiction more resembled the period from 1940-1960 in form and themes, yet was still influenced by the literary experimentation of the 1960s. The most important writer of that decade was Larry Niven, whose “known space” stories, highlighted by Ringworld, were as much responsible for the renewed popularity of traditional sf.

My favorite writer of the 1970s was Robert Silverberg whose sense of storytelling, and tales of self-discovery were at their peak from 1966 through 1975, a period during which he wrote a seemingly endless stream of thoughtful science fiction such as “Hawksbill Station,” “Nightwings,” Dying Inside, A Time of Changes and so many more.

I was disappointed in science fiction in the 1980s since it was the beginning of nearly 20 years in which sf mostly ignored the far-future and concentrated on the present and near future, usually dismally. The most important writer of the cyberpunk era was William Gibson, whose Neuromancer set the tone for what I consider near-future dismal sf.

My favorite writer of the decade was Michael Bishop, who blended sfnal speculation with literary ideals better than any other writer besides Ursula K Le Guin. My favorite stories of his included “Her Habiline Husband,” No Enemy But Time and Brittle Innings.

The late 1990s and 2000s saw the revival of traditional science fiction for a second time, originally in the pages of Interzone, although it gradually spread through the sf field. Perhaps the most important writer in this movement, and thus the most important writer of the 1990s, was Stephen Baxter, whose xeelee stories and H.G. Wells’ tribute The Time Ships were major reasons for that revival (which has recently been referred to as “new space opera”).

Much as I enjoy Baxter’s fiction, my favorite writer of the 1990s was Kim Stanley Robinson, the heir apparent to Robert Silverberg and Michael Bishop with his character-driven storytelling in such novel as the Mars trilogy.

It is too soon to designate any writer as the most important writer of the recently-concluded 2000s, so I will defer that decade for a later time.

Decade / Writer of the Decade / My Favorite Writer
1900s / H.G. Wells / H.G. Wells
1910s / Edgar Rice Burroughs / A. Merritt
1920s / E.E. Smith / Murray Leinster
1930s / John W. Campbell, Stanley G. Weinbaum / Stanley G. Weinbaum
1940s / Robert A. Heinlein / Clifford D. Simak
1950s / Arthur C. Clarke / Poul Anderson
1960s / Roger Zelazny / Roger Zelazny
1970s / Larry Niven / Robert Silverberg
1980s / William Gibson / Michael Bishop
1990s / Stephen Baxter / Kim Stanley Robinson


  • Zelazny the most important writer of the 1960s? If you're talking about the New Wave, then Moorcock, M John Harrison, Ballard and Aldiss all were more important - especially as the New Wave was a British movement. And in the US, I'd rate Delany higher than Zelazny.

    Also, Interzone was initially a literary sf magazine, and New British Space Opera was arguably kicked off by Iain M Banks in the late 1980s, and Colin Greenland's Take Back Plenty in 1990. Also early works by Paul J McAuley.

    Baxter was among the first generation of UK sf writers - which includes Peter F Hamilton and Eric Brown - who built on the sf of the past, in a genre recently opened up to past forms by Banks, Greenland, McAuley and others.

    By Blogger Ian Sales, At 8:02 AM  

  • I would agree with most of your choices. The only change I would make, and I realize it is a personal opinion, is Asimov in place of Clarke. I can see the argument for Clarke but that is my opinion.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 8:50 PM  

  • For Zelazny I'm talking about overall influence on American sf. His influence here surpassed everybody else you mentioned.

    I did not claim Baxter created the New Space Opera movement, but he is the most prominent proponent of it on these shores. That movement did build on the past, as did Niven's influence in the 1970s as well.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 1:41 PM  

  • Point taken about Zelazny's influence on the US New Wave.

    But. Baxter isn't a New Space Opera writer. His Xeelee stories are certainly space opera, but he was writing them - in Dream Magazine, a small press mag in the mid-1980s - before any sort of "movement" was identified. He's probably more correctly seen as one of the authors who did the groundwork, helping to reshape sf in the UK, such that New Space Opera could come into being.

    By Blogger Ian Sales, At 1:40 AM  

  • I read your post but would have to say that the best writer of the decade is Daralyse Lyons, writer of The Lost Daughter.

    By Blogger Alyse, At 4:32 PM  

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