Best Sci-Fi books?

Every few years someone big (Time, etc., Esquire here) takes a stab at making a list of the best sci-fi books of all time. I mean, I guess. Certainly many of these are good. But I would say that more often they represent the “most influential” rather than the “best”. Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep? It’s okay. But is it there because it’s one of the best books or because Dick was a mad genius and it spawned Blade Runner which changed the face of pop culture sci-fi for movies? Frankenstein? The first sci-fi, arguably, the one that birthed the genre. But is it better than the prose of NK Jemisin or Octavia Butler or Ursula LeGuin or Kazuo Ishiguro? No, it isn’t. So don’t take any of these lists as definitive. There’s probably as many different top 50 lists as there are people with spare time enough to make them. Certainly my list would be different.

Science fiction’s earliest inklings began in the mid-1600s, when Johannes Kepler and Francis Godwin wrote pioneering stories about voyages to the moon. Some scholars argue that science fiction as we now understand it was truly born in 1818, when Mary Shelley published Frankenstein, the first novel of its kind whose events are explained by science, not mysticism or miracles. Now, two centuries later, sci-fi is a sprawling and lucrative multimedia genre with countless sub-genres, such as dystopian fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, and climate fiction, just to name a few. It’s also remarkably porous, allowing for some overlap with genres like fantasy and horror.

Sci-fi brings out the best in our imaginations and evokes a sense of wonder, but it also inspires a spirit of questioning. Through the enduring themes of sci-fi, we can examine the zeitgeist’s cultural context and ethical questions. Our favorite works in the genre make good on this promise, meditating on everything from identity to oppression to morality. As the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing said, “Science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time.”

Friday news

On collaboration

This is a subject that is interesting to me because I believe we’ve become far too insular in our creative silos as “fine artists”. Where much of the rest of what the buzzpapers call “the creative class” work across fields, genres, media, and platforms to bring their work to light, we tend to have dug ourselves into cozy little bunkers from which we seldom emerge. I remember first thinking this when reading a book on the New York School of poets — a tale that included plenty of collaboration, dalliance, and cross over with the painters and musicians of the time.

That said, I can’t imagine sitting down to work with another writer on a long project like a novel. How do you negotiate that? I’ve worked my poetry angle with songwriters, printmakers, painters, photographers, craftspeople, designers, filmmakers, etc., but the idea of another author is beyond me. And that goes doubly for poetry. I remember once, 20+ years ago, being asked to be part of a group of poets who worked together to create work, and I tried, I really tried, for about two days before I was like, No way. Now, that may have largely been a consequence of one of the writers being, in those days, a bit of a dick, but you get me. I suspect I would have drifted away pretty quickly regardless. Playing nice with others is great in a social group, but not for me on the page.

These two crime writers, however, seem to have made a go of it.

The crucial thing for a good collaboration is the rather diffuse expression “good chemistry” between two people. At the same time, creative collaboration involves the art of balance. Part of the success behind our crime series about police investigator Alexander Blix and news blogger Emma Ramm is that we, as writers, have dissimilar writing styles and, yet, not so different that we cannot disagree without getting into conflict. Both of us are open to the idea that things can be done differently, and neither of us is so precious that we demand changes. Differences are important, and some self-sacrifice – an absence of ego – is absolutely necessary to achieve a successful result.