This weekend, whilst tidying the garage (I know how to have fun when I’m not at work!), I found a box of books that I thought must have been thrown out and lost forever. Amongst the treasures in this box was most of my early science fiction collection including the copy of “2001 a Space Odyssey” that I had for Christmas in 1968 and was reading while Messrs Borman, Lovell & Anders in Apollo 8 were orbiting the moon.
To digress very slightly my auto-spellchecker queried the word “Borman” in the previous sentence and offered me “Bowman” as an alternative. David Bowman is, of course, the hero of “2001…” Curious, no?
The box also contained other Arthur C. Clarke classics, notably “Childhoods End” (of which you will hear more when I tackle creating my new religion in due course) and a number of lesser-known Isaac Asimov stories, “The Stars Like Dust”, “The Currents of Space” and “The End of Eternity” all purchased in the early 1970s although written over a decade earlier.
These old friends have now been restored to my bookcase, displacing some much later purchases which, now I look at them, do not mean as much to me. They occupy my top shelf along with later discoveries by Robert A. Heinlein and Julian May and it occurred to me to give some thought as to why those authors count as my favourites.
In one or other of the autobiographical interludes that crop up between his short stories, Isaac Asimov explained how his writing was influenced by the magazine editor to whom his early work was submitted, John W. Campbell. While this gentleman would consider submitted work involving alien life forms, his preference was given to those stories set in entirely human universes or those where humanity was firmly in control. Asimov’s stories contain hardly any non-human characters (except Positronic Robots and I don’t count them because they were created by humans) and neither, similarly, do Clarke and Heinlein’s “universes”. They were both, at some early point in their careers, members of Campbell’s stable of writers.
Julian May (who might have submitted work to Campbell – I’m not sure, she might have been just too young) was a great fan of E.E. “Doc” Smith, of “Lensman” saga fame who WAS published by him. Both of these authors favoured universes populated by a number of alien races but always with humankind occupying a VERY special place and showing greater potential than all of the others.
And that is why I like them all. My species is best! I am a human chauvinist and while I don’t know if there is a word “specist” (the spellchecker says there isn’t) to cover someone one level up from a racist, that’s what I think I must be. Give me a sci-fi story with no humans, or worse, humans as the baddies in an essentially non-human universe and I’ll lose interest straight away.
Anyway, having worked out these terrible secrets of my psyche what I really want to know is:
Where has it all gone?
I regularly trawl the Sci-fi shelves in bookshops for something new, galactic in scope and featuring distinctly human heroes, and do I find anything? Well, there are about 300 quasi-identical Terry Pratchett novels (which are Fantasy NOT Science Fiction) and lots of reprints of the Old Masters that I already have but NOTHING NEW! Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein are all, sadly, dead. I have everything that Julian May has produced and she doesn’t seem to be starting any new projects so who exactly do I turn to for a decent bit of Space Opera?
If anyone has any candidates in mind please let me know.