SF Pros Make Their Literary Selections

By Neal Comment

Responding to the outbreak of public attention, the Library of America has revealed the contents of its Philip K. Dick collection, and it turns out I correctly predicted all four novels. And while I was at the computer yesterday, I emailed a couple science-fiction writers and other industry pros and asked them what other authors they’d install in the Library’s canon of great American literature. “I would be happy to do another volume of PKD,” replied Tor editor David Hartwell, listing Solar Lottery, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, and Clans of the Alphane Moon—and then sketching out not only a third collection for the visionary works of Dick’s later career, but a fourth rounding up the best of his attempts to write “mainstream” fiction.

Hartwell had a lot of other great suggestions, including a tribute to Alfred Bester that puts The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination together with his best short stories. Coincidentally, Fantasy & Science Fiction editor Gordon Van Gelder also mentioned The Stars My Destination, but put it in a multi-author collection that included Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley, The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon’s More than Human, and Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn.

Author John Scalzi mentions Ray Bradbury, who’s already under consideration by Library gatekeepers. He picks out The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked This Way Comes; he also invokes Robert A. Heinlein, as did Paul Witcover, and the three of us pretty much converged on Stranger in a Strange Land, Starship Troopers, and the bulk of the short stories in The Past Through Tomorrow for that collection. Maybe The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress if we can squeeze it in.

Scalzi also has a good batch of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. novels picked out—Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle, and Galapagos—though I suspect that when the Library does turn to Vonnegut, they’ll actually put everything from Player Piano to God Bless You, Mister Rosewater into one volume, then possibly build a second around Slaughterhouse, Breakfast of Champions, and then Galapagos, maybe some of the novels in-between.

Literary agent Ginger Clark chose another Golden Age icon, Isaac Asimov, collating his first Foundation trilogy with I, Robot and some of his most important short fiction. She also built an Ursula K. LeGuin omnibus around the first three Earthsea novels, along with The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven (again, this is one the Library is actually considering). And then, for good measure, she added a Stephen King triptych: Carrie, The Shining, and The Stand. “I leave it up to the Library of America to debate which version,” she says of that last choice. “Perhaps include both so we can see how he changed the ending.”

Science fiction has an awful lot of series in its canon, many of which proved popular among the people I contacted: NAL/Roc editor Liz Scheier tried to decide between the Otherland novels of Tad Williams and the Hyperion novels of Dan Simmons, while Paul Witcover wanted Gene Wolfe’s Torturer cycle, along with The Fifth Head of Cerberus. DC Comics licensed publishing editor John Morgan said, “Dune by Frank Herbert was a great, one-of-a-kind book for its time that is still just as relevant and affecting today, which is a mean feat. I think it’s a book readers will enjoy and mull over forever.” At first, he didn’t want to include any other books, but when I said he had a little more room, he acknowledged Herbert’s first two sequels, though he noted, “Children of Dune is a logical stopping point.”

Shawna McCarthy, who’s both a literary agent and the editor of Realms of Fantasy, nominated an assortment of contemporary writers like Connie Willis and Robert Charles Wilson; her selection that seemed most ready for a Library edition was the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Gordon Van Gelder also suggested a collection of James Tiptree, Jr. short stories; because Tiptree was really a woman named Alice Sheldon, copyeditor Deanna Hoak mentions her as a prime candidate for a “Female Masters of SF” collection with many other potential inclusions. “The problem is limiting oneself to five authors,” she sighs. “Before I made a final selection I would take a much closer look at work by as many of them as possible.”

Several people mentioned Samuel R. Delany, but author Elizabeth Hand put together the most comprehensive collection, including Dhalgren, Triton, and the short stories in Driftglass. “I was just thinking yesterday how much ‘Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones’ reminds me of The Way We Live Now,” she observes of Delany’s prescient literary vision, “time travel notwithstanding.”

As for me, my first choice would be to take the short stories of Cordwainer Smith and link them with his one novel, Nostrilia, in one giant-sized volume. From a pure geek standpoint, which I mean in the most positive sense, I could also go for a Hal Clement collection built around Mission to Gravity and Needle (which was totally ripped off in the movie The Hidden), along with his best short stories. And we probably need to make room for A Canticle for Leibowitz somehow; maybe in a “Tales of the Post-Nuclear Holocaust” collection that might also feature Damnation Alley (it’s a good book, dammit!), Alas, Bablyon, and A Boy and His Dog.