Visions of Paradise

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Modern Prometheus

Many long-time sf readers, such as myself, grew up reading several of the giants of the genre. Readers whose “golden age” was in the 1940s and 1950s grew up on Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Poul Anderson, Philip K. Dick, A.E. van Vogt, and others from that era. I was a child of the “New Wave” in the 1960s who grew up on Clifford D. Simak, Roger Zelazny, and three writers who are still active, Robert Silverberg, Ursula K Le Guin and Samuel R. Delany.

Readers who are like me got different types of pleasures from the various writers. But what about younger readers of science fiction; is it possible for them to enjoy current writers who provide similar rewards to the writers of our youth?

In an attempt to perform a service for younger readers, I have compiled a “If you liked A...then you should read B” list for them. But none of the writers B are slavish imitators of writers A. Rather it is my opinion that their fiction taps into the same sense of wonder as their forebears, and hopefully will influence their fans in a similar manner.

Robert A. Heinlein was the quintessential sf writer for fans in the 1940s and 1950s, luring many young readers into the sf field especially through his series of “young adult” novels of the 1950s. While many writers have striven to imitate Heinlein, often failing, there are two contemporary writers who were obviously influenced by Heinlein who seem to offer similar rewards without being mere imitators. Neither is a young writer actually, both having first reach prominence in the 1970s: John Varley and Joe Haldeman.

Isaac Asimov wrote straight-forward plots with lots of dialog, often based around sf mysteries (The Caves of Steel, much of the Foundation series). His most logical heir is Jack McDevitt who loves mysteries and characters investigating ideas rather than slam-bang action.

Arthur C. Clarke’s best fiction explored the vastness of space with thought-provoking ideas and scenarios. Frequently when I read fiction by Stephen Baxter I feel much of the same excitement. Fittingly, the two collaborated on both a standalone novel The Light of Other Days and the Time Odyssey trilogy but, ironically, they are not the works of Baxter which offer the most Clarke-like rewards.

A Roger Zelazny novel frequently revolved around a mystery, filled with color and wondrous scenarios, all told in language which was virtually poetic. The writer whose fiction seems to offer the closest similar experience is China Miéville, especially his Bas Lag novels.

While nobody offers any writing precisely similar to the type of evocative stuff Ray Bradbury wrote in the 1950s, there is one current writer whose short fiction does provide a similar effect, and that is Jeffrey Ford. I do not consider it a coincidence that although Bradbury was ostensibly a science fiction writer, his logical heir is a fantasist, considering that Bradbury primarily used sf tropes to tell fantasy stories.

The writer whose sense that things are not quite as we believe they are most resembles that of early Philip K. Dick is fantasist Tim Powers, whose novels are as much based on “secret histories” as they are based on pure fantasy.

Poul Anderson was perhaps the greatest master of world-building and plotting who might never be equaled in the breadth of his interests, ranging from space opera to sociological sf to historical fantasy to alternative history. The modern writer whose sf is most similar in attitude to that of Anderson is Alastair Reynolds, who is both talented enough and young enough to spread his wings in other directions in the future.

Again, none of these latter writers are imitators of their forebears, but I believe they would likely appeal to fans of the former in many ways. I have not attempted to select the “modern” Silverberg, Delany or Le Guin, since all three are still alive and well, so you can find their types of rewards from the sources themselves.

If you liked...Then Read...This Novel...
Robert A. Heinlein...John Varley...Steel Beach; The Golden Globe ; The Rolling Thunder trilogy
Robert A. Heinlein...Joe Haldeman...Forever War ; Mindbridge; The Worlds trilogy
Isaac Asimov...Jack McDevitt...Alex Benedict series
Arthur C. Clarke...Stephen Baxter...Xeelee series; Destiny’s Children series
Roger Zelazny...China Mieville...Perdito Street Station; The Scar; Iron Council
Philip K. Dick...Tim Powers...Declare; Last Call; Three Days to Never
Poul Anderson...Alastair Reynolds...Revelation Space trilogy; Century Rain; The Prefect
Ray Bradbury... Jeffrey Ford...The Empire of Ice Cream; The Cosmology of the Wider World; The Shadow Year


  • Have read several of your postings with great interest, and you seem like the perfect person to pose this two-part question to: (1) What would the legacy of Don Wilcox be in the history of science fiction/fantasy writing, and (2) if one were to compile an anthology of his writings, who in your opinion would be perfect for penning the Foreword to such an anthology?

    By Blogger Von Rothenberger, At 2:35 AM  

  • I have never heard of a Don Wilcox in f&sf, nor does his name show up either at Fantastic Fiction, Locus or Wikipedia, nor in the contents pages of either F&SF or Galaxy. Even a general Google search turned up nothing. Is he a real person?

    By Blogger adamosf, At 6:14 AM  

  • Don's name does show up in ISFDB(

    I have not read any of his work. Most of his work appeared in the 40s.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 7:00 PM  

  • that's a fairly extensive list of publications for somebody i've never heard of previously. thanks, jim.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 11:47 AM  

  • I agree with you. It is rare to find an author I have never heard of let alone one who has written this much.

    From the comments on the Sony Reader Store site, it sounds like he was very popular in the 40s and early 50s. He does not appear to be reprinted in later years.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 7:20 PM  

  • Cleo Eldon Wilcox, aka "Don Wilcox", published seven novels, twelve serials, and 82 short stories between 1939 and 1992. His story "The Voyage That Lasted Six Hundred Years" (1940) was his enduring. Don wrote mostly for "Amazing Stories" and "Fantastic Adventures" and is the last of his generation of writers whose work has not been substantially reprinted. He died at age 95 in 2000 in his hometown of Lucas, Kansas.

    By Blogger Von Rothenberger, At 4:21 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Von Rothenberger, At 4:21 PM  

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