Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ten Important and Influential SF/Fantasy Writers of the '90s

Originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 5/19/01, as part of a larger (and very contentious, as I think you can figure out by my tone) discussion:

I am studiously not replying to the other subthread, since it seems to be generating more heat than light. Lawrence has made a solid list of "writers who've done some very good work in the period," but I do agree with the criticism that it's a bit broad for a real "core" or "essential" list. I do think Lawrence's list is very good as a "read all of these people to get a good sense of the richness of the genre" recommendation, but that's not quite what (I think) was intended.

So, having stuck my nose into the business, let me try my own hand at it (that's only fair). The list below is of ten (and only ten -- if I think of more than that, I'll have to choose and cut) Important and Influential Writers of the '90s. I say "'90s" to have a definite historic period that doesn't bleed into the present day, because ten years is as big a chunk as I feel capable of dealing with at the moment, and because ten writers for ten years pleases my need for symmetry. I say "Important and Influential" to focus the list on writers who have had an impact on the field as a whole, who (in most cases) have followers or reactionaries (that's not quite the word I want; I hope the point is clear).

First, some names I don't include, with reasons:

  • Ken Macleod (very well might be on a similar list for the '00s, but is too new to have really had an influence in the period)
  • Jack Vance (published two wonderful SF novels in the period, but both were in the vein he's always written in -- he's not working over any new ground, and has always been sui generis)
  • Robert Reed (a close call, but he's mostly considered a great short story writer and doesn't seem particularly influential)
  • Howard Waldrop (if there's anyone else in the world who can write like Waldrop, I'll eat my hat. And he goes in so many directions at once, no one can follow. He's a great original, but, for that very reason, he's nowhere near the core of SF.)
  • Walter Jon Williams (I wish Aristoi and Days of Atonement and the Drake Maijstral books were huge influences on the field, but they don't seem to have been)
  • Michael Swanwick (another close one, but he's another writer who does too many different things well to really be influential in any one direction)
Ten Important and Influential SF Writers of the '90s:
  • Stephen Baxter
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Greg Egan
  • Geoffrey A. Landis
  • Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Neal Stephenson
  • Bruce Sterling
  • Harry Turtledove
  • Vernor Vinge
  • Connie Willis

I ended up with twelve names, and dropped Gene Wolfe and Greg Bear. Nancy Kress and Orson Scott Card are the writers I kept almost putting on the list, and then didn't. (So those are my also-rans.) I also started to put explanatory comments (as in "stands in for this movement"), but deleted them, since the point of this list was to name writers who are influential and important in and of themselves.

I'm sure arguments can be made against every name on my list, but I'm pretty comfortable with it. I do think lists like this need to be carefully focused (as I tried to do) to avoid turning into lists of everyone who's written anything worth reading (which would, of course, be an immensely longer list).

2 comments:

Johan Larson said...

Would you explain why you consider Stephen Baxter important or influential?

(Successful? Sure.)

Andrew Wheeler said...

Baxter was the epitome of Hard SF in the '90s. (Sure, reviewers and hardcore readers liked Egan better, but Baxter was, and is, the face of modern Hard SF to the world of readers.)

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