Review What is the single best science fiction novel of all time?

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I have to agree. Not only did this thread devolve too early, it was really low quality navel gazing, at that. Oh well, it happens.

On topic, and to your first point, I will offer "The Martian". Maybe not the #1 sci fi novel of all time. But probably #1 in the past 20 years. Also, to the main point if the thread, it's a stand alone novel as opposed to a series.

I'm also a little surprised we've gone this far without mentioning A Wrinkle In Time (unless I missed it).
The Martian is certainly one of the best pieces of science fiction of the 21st century and probably the one most likely to still be read in 50 or 100 years. (Definitely not you, Ready Player One.)
 

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DollarD

Long-time Lurker
For 'hard' definitions of Science Fiction, I'd also suggest Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Maybe even House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. :)

Both of those would top my list of Science Fiction novels of a more, ah, recent, persuasion when not digging into the catalogs of the old masters. Though, to be fair, that's if you define recent as 'within the last 25 years.'
 


For 'hard' definitions of Science Fiction, I'd also suggest Singularity Sky by Charles Stross. Maybe even House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds. :)

Both of those would top my list of Science Fiction novels of a more, ah, recent, persuasion when not digging into the catalogs of the old masters. Though, to be fair, that's if you define recent as 'within the last 25 years.'
I like Alastair Reynolds. He uses hard science fiction to tell space opera type stories. He isn't afraid to combine hard science with space pirates!
 
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This isn't really true. Genre is much more than an organizing tool; it has a huge influence on style and content.
Which is BAD. Trying to conform to the tropes of a genre is limiting and makes for dull repetitive fiction.

And many critics are genre snobs. They rate fiction much more harshly if it contains science fiction or fantasy elements...
George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, William Burroughs
...and rate it higher if it wallows in misery.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
This isn't really true. Genre is much more than an organizing tool; it has a huge influence on style and content.
Yes, with commercial purpose.

Much of any "genre" is capable of rising above that commercial scheme, however. And if we are going to be discussing "what is the single best science fiction novel of all time," we are going to want to discuss works that transcend the mundane barriers of the bookseller ghettos.
 




Clint_L

Hero
Which is BAD. Trying to conform to the tropes of a genre is limiting and makes for dull repetitive fiction.

And many critics are genre snobs. They rate fiction much more harshly if it contains science fiction or fantasy elements...

...and rate it higher if it wallows in misery.
That is quite a limited take on Orwell, Atwood, and Burroughs. If that is your takeaway on those three highly distinct, disparate authors, then it's hard to take your opinion of them seriously (wallows in misery? Atwood? Really?).

I think there is some genre snobbery, sure. But it is also true that there is a lot of best selling genre fiction that is, by literary standards, very, very basic. Let's set sci-fi aside so as not to ruffle any feathers: the Twilight series has sold tens of millions of copies, and the Shades of Grey series, which is basically Twilight smut, tens of millions more. I have trouble not laughing out loud when I read some of the terrible sentences that those authors have published...but they have made a fortune, so what do I know? So the snobbery is not without basis: there is a vast market for genre fiction that is, by literary standards, barely readable. As far as writing ability goes, most of the authors mentioned in this thread are basic.

And that's fine. I love punk rock, and it's not because of the musicianship. Art is subjective and contextual, so if the tools get you where you need to go, then bless. But the idea that genre is just a marketing tool is wrong. Genre greatly impacts writing, and there are a lot of genre writers who are successful because they are writing in that niche.

Take The Martian. That is a book that I greatly enjoy; I've not only read it several times, I've taught it as part of a creative writing unit on episodic storytelling. But Andy Weir is an extremely limited writer. His characters are unoriginal and lack distinctiveness, and his prose is very mundane. The Martian works because he stays in his lane: he uses science to generate compelling plot points and to keep the reader engaged by Mark Watney's ingenuity, by his capacity to use science to solve seemingly intractable problems. Andy Weir is never going to write the Next Great American Novel; he's not good enough. But I don't care; if he can give me more books on par with The Martian I will be more than satisfied (that said, his next two books: readable, but not nearly as good). Genre is not really a "ghetto", it provides alternative contexts through which to understand and value art. Genre is a good thing. I am proud to be a sci-fi fan.
 

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