From The Observer Magazine, 1989.
The Experts' Expert Science Fiction Writers
Science fiction enjoys a large cult following in this country. Here Maxim Jakubowski asks leading writers of the genre which of their fellow authors they give shelf space to in their libraries.
Isaac Asimov: Modern science fiction's most prolific author (over 350 books).
“What a difficult question. There is so much good SF writing to choose from. But here goes: five writers, two of which are sadly dead. Clifford Simak and Robert Heinlein. They were the most important influences on me when I was a younger writer. Happily, the next three are all still with us and as active as ever. They are my friends Arthur C. Clarke, because he knows science so thoroughly and Frederik Pohl, who also handles science well. My favourite, however, is Robert Sheckley. I've never read a story of his that I didn't like. If only he could match my own output and write more...”
Norman Spinrad: The controversial American author of “Bug Jack Barron”.
“For me, Philip K. Dick was one of the great writers of this century, and not just of science fiction. I also enjoy Gregory Benford, a well-rounded novelist, who is good on science, style and characterisation. I can't avoid mentioning William Burroughs either for his stylistic craziness and original conceptions. And Kim Stanley Robinson's novel ‘The Gold Coast’ is one of the best SF books of recent years. It's a courageous work for an American, dealing as it does with dope-dealing and the military complex in Orange County. But my winning vote goes to Brian Aldiss, one of the few authors who's been writing for a long time and has developed and constantly matured along the way, which so few others are capable of doing.”
David Wingrove: Young British author of the forthcoming epic “Chung Kuo”.
“Brian Aldiss is the shadow behind my own work. I've been so engrossed in his books that it's impossible that it hasn't rubbed off to some large degree. I also love Philip K. Dick for the way he handled ideas, and for the sheer scale of things, it must be Frank Herbert, the author of ‘Dune’. I'd also like to add John Crowley and Ursula K. Le Guin, both for the sheer beauty of their writing and the way they change trite science fiction ideas into something quite remarkable.”
Arthur C. Clarke: Now based in Sri Lanka, the creator of “2001, A Space Odyssey”.
“I believe it was Dr Johnson who said, ‘Every man owes something to his profession’. This puts me in a moral dilemma, especially as I was quite a blurb-scrounger in my younger days. However, for years I've been ter-rified of saying anything nice about any living SF author. Moreover, if I was foolish enough to say how brilliant I consider Mr X or (almost more often these days) Ms Y, I'd feel guilty about all the even better writers I didn't know. According to ‘Locus’ (the SF equivalent of ‘Variety’) almost 2,000 SF books were printed in 1988 alone. I had time to read about 10. Nine were excellent, one merely good. This is the Golden Age of SF. Meanwhile, the past masters remain, encapsulated in time warps beyond the reach of obsolescence. No one will ever surpass the closing pages of ‘The Time Machine’ or the cosmic visions of Olaf Stapledon's ‘Star Maker’ ... But I'm glad that my colleagues keep on trying.”
J.G. Ballard: SF's consummate stylist and author of “Empire of the Sun”
“Ray Bradbury is still my favourite. I admired him long before I became a SF writer and for many years he was the only science fiction writer I read. Amongst the current British writers, I'm always amazed by the energy and imagination of Michael Moorcock. Somebody once described him as the Alexandre Dumas of our day. Lastly, one must mention the cyberpunk crowd, of which the best are William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.”
Bob Shaw: Popular Irish author of the “Wooden Spaceships” series.
“The writer I read most is Robert Sheckley. His dry humour appeals a lot to me, particularly as there is never enough humour in science fiction. I also much enjoy Theodore Sturgeon and Clifford Simak. But top of the pops must be Arthur C. Clarke, my hero from the start, because of the underlying current of decency in his books that makes you feel proud to be a human being.”
Lisa Tuttle: US writer and feminist, winner of the Nebula award.
“When I was younger, I was most influenced by Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Philip K. Dick and Orwell's ‘1984’. They are the people who made me want to write. But, with little hesitation, my desert island science fiction writer would be Ursula K. Le Guin, she is just the greatest. Her novel ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ is one of the very few books to confront sex and gender seriously.”
Ian Watson: One of SF's most cerebral writers; winner of the Apollo award.
“One must mention Arthur C. Clarke, for his cosmic perspectives and ever -- youthful sense of wonder, though not always for his novelistic virtues. In both these respects, he inherits the mantle of Stapledon who, unlike H. G. Wells, is grossly overlooked by the British cultural establishment, which tends to be scientifically blind. John Brunner puts his finger crusadingly on the pulse of the future, while I applaud Ursula K. Le Guin for raising the curtain on sexual politics. Robert Silverberg is the supreme craftsman, and of authors lately dead, Philip K. Dick would be the doyen. It's dodgy to finger newer authors, because they can burn like meteors then become a cinder, but Michael Bishop is producing impeccable literature while addressing major themes: evolution, politics, Aids.”
Christopher Priest: Author of “The Affirmation” and “The Glamour”.
Orwell and Graham Greene remain my two major influences. And in contemporary science fiction, you can't ignore William Gibson for the way he has brought a whole new vocabulary and imagery into play. “Although these days, I fear that SF is fast becoming a played-out, bankrupt form, my choice is Brian Aldiss for the sheer energy of his writing and his ability as an English stylist, and the fact that he is still courageously committed and involved with science fiction.”
Tanith Lee: Described by “The Village Voice” as “the Princess Royal of Fantasy”.
“The first time I encountered Ray Bradbury was like finding something you'd always been looking for, a sense of immediate recognition, mostly in his wonderful short stories. Later came the shock of meeting the writings of Theodore Sturgeon, who was so disturbing, and is still now sometimes too harsh for me. But the person I like to read most now is Louise Cooper, because she is so incredibly cinematic and has a power of structural climax that I haven't met that often.”
Robert Holdstock: Winner of the World Fantasy Award for “Mythago Wood”.
“An early science fiction influence of mine was Nigel Kneale's ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, and, of course, H.G. Wells's ‘The Time Machine’. I was also greatly impressed by Isaac Asimov. However, the most powerful piece of fantasy writing I've read is towards the end of Naomi Mitchison's historical novel ‘The Conquered’. I love British landscape, so Keith Roberts takes my vote. In books like ‘The Chalk Giants’, ‘Pavane’ and ‘The Inner Wheel’, his treatments of such landscapes touch me profoundly.”
Brian Aldiss: The science-fiction writers’ science fiction writer.
“Sadly, my favourite science fiction authors are all dead. Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon. They were the ones who cleared the jungle for all of us. Then came Philip K. Dick, who treated us to the unique pleasure of watching his talent unfolding through all those astonishing novels of black humour he wrote. How can I avoid Salman Rushdie, who is not really a fantasy writer, but whose first novel ‘Grimus’ is often categorised as such? Indeed, Sir George Steiner has pointed to the science fictional content of his latest work. And we've all seen the power of his phantasmagoria ‘The Satanic Verses’ to stir millions. He must now be the best-known writer on the planet since Rosetta wrote his stone. My main choice might well surprise many: it's Doris Lessing, a writer with many interests, involved in the world, a powerful and sane presence well aware of the dark side of our natures. Her ‘Shikasta’ series is a perfect example of what one kind of science fiction should be and she acknowledges her debt to Stapledon too.”