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Science fiction great Brian Aldiss, 92, dies at his Oxford home

Sad to hear this news

Brian Aldiss was one of my all time favourite authors.

Not read any of his books for some time though going to go back through them again now.

Another classic sci-fi author gone.

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Another great has passed on :-(

I read every book of his I came across.

RIP.

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The Greats have gone

And who is to replace them?

Of the current SF authors only David Weber is of the same level as the great SF authors of the past (Heinlein, Norton, Asimov, Brunner, Bradley, Clarke, E.E. Smith etc) and he is over 60.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Greats have gone

The 1920s onwards were times of great change in technology and its effects on the organisation of society. To some extent we are now seeing or anticipating the realisation of what sci-fi saw then as the apparently "impossible" future developments.

It is difficult to see what current young authors can add to the mix when so many possibilities have already been explored so thoroughly. Has the fantasy genre become the new area for creative writing?

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Re: The Greats have gone

There is no replacement.

But, if you try, you'll find many that are more than just good writers out there.

Just give them a chance.

And, I'd like to say that "the search is the best part of the hunt". Though I'm not sure it translates OK, I think it says it all.

So, good hunting.

And good night, Brian (said as I hold a copy of Barefoot In The Head... Eh!... This time I'm gonna get till the end).

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Re: The Greats have gone

There are a lot of great authors out there.

The problem when comparing old authors to new ones is that only the most popular books survive to be published 30 years on. That makes it easy to identify old masters, but not so much the current ones.

There is also so much more out there, with smaller publishers/self published books/translations etc.

And more people of course.

Hard to find the jewels in the dross.

but for a start try

Peter F Hamilton (apart from night's dawn, mostly due to the ending).

Charles Stross

Alastair Reynolds

Stephen Baxter (early stuff mostly)

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Re: The Greats have gone

<cough > Iain M Banks </cough >

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Re: The Greats have gone

Graydon Saunders has a series (still in progress) with an absolutely fascinating world. Plus, he doesn't "info dump" the details on you, but let's you discover the most interesting bits on your own.

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Re: The Greats have gone

For those with the stamina to enjoy Peter F. Hamilton, I'd also recommend taking a look at Ann Leckie and her somewhat more compact but still rewarding 'Ancilliary...' series.

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JDC

Re: The Greats have gone

Much as I enjoy Peter Hamilton, I find it hard to think of him as a "Great" - they're huge space operas, but beach reading rather than classics. And they could mostly do with a more assertive editor.

Iain M. Banks is perhaps the only recent SF author that I know of who could be rightly considered Great. Be happy to hear more suggestions, though!

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Alien

Re: The 1920s onwards

Actually the 1780s to 1800. Programmable power looms, then in 1800 we entered the Electrical Age (Steam was well established), due to Volta's battery. Hence Shelly's Frankenstien's Monster 1821 approx (there were revisions). Before the end of 1800s there was telegraph, lead acid batteries, dry cells, fax, voice telephony, radio, cars (Steam, Battery Electric, Petrol and Diesel), typewriters, punch card census analysis (Hollerith = IBM), Gestetner's Rotary Duplicator, photography, cine, phonograph & gramophone, hearing aids using carbon mic/moving iron, amplifier module, torpedoes. HG Wells WOTW "warships" were already obsolete.

Maxwells famous equations only a hair's breadth from relativity than showed speed of light a constant (Einstein credited him) and the Michelson–Morley experiment was performed over the spring and summer of 1887.

The modern novel is mostly an 18th C development. (Jane Austin rather famous now)

Boolean Algebra for computers and the special non-Euclidian geometry need by Einstein for his 2nd Relativity equation.

Improved vacuum pumps and the CRT (UK and Germany).

Though SF can be argued to seriously start with Lucian's True Stories (about 150 AD?) they really took off due to 19th C industrialisation, science, mathematics and tech. Verne's 20,000 leagues was all based on EXISTING tech, he'd been inspired by a model of a French military submarine.

Books were still only for well off people. Most people in 1830s to 1850s saw theatre productions of Frankenstein rather than book. London had many theatres with up to 5,000 people a night.

The whole Victorian pre-Raphelite, neo-pagan, Celtic literature (English translations) and thus Fantasy writing took off in Victorian age, which fed into SF. Dracula (based on the Irish myths & lenann shee more than central Europe, he was Irish), McDonald's Lilith and many otthers without which SF would be rather boring (how much a debt does Hellconia owe to Fantasy?).

Tolkien new all the Victorian stuff, though LOTR is more based on Celtic, Teutonic and Norse myth. & legend.

EE "Doc" Smith in late 1920s "invents" Space Opera (he puts impossible "jokes", he knew science and that Iron is the lowest state were Fusion and Fission end, so the spacecraft powered on Iron is an "in joke").

By the 1980s SF had seriously gone off and is now most is too Transhumanist "religion" and indulgent fantasy (Nano everything that's really just magic, immortality, General AI, resurrection clones and mind transfer to computers, the stuff of the comic end of SF in the 1940s).

I like Aldiss's earlier works.

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Re: The Greats have gone

"Much as I enjoy Peter Hamilton, I find it hard to think of him as a "Great" - they're huge space operas, but beach reading rather than classics. And they could mostly do with a more assertive editor."

I couldn't agree more - what marked earlier sci-fi writers was that they could tell a gripping story, spanning generations and galaxies, and you didn't need a crane to lift the novel off the coffee table.

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Re: The Greats have gone

I like Paolo Bacigalupi's stuff alot - not a great yet but has potential. Richared Morgan is a good read as well.

The genre is definitely not dead.

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Re: The 1920s onwards

+1 for Alistair Reynolds. Great space operas.

Another favourite is C.J.Cherryh. The Rimrunner universe is a firm favourite of mine. I have an Aldiss first edition of Heliconia Summer sitting around somewhere. The version of 'Spring I have is a reprint, unfortunately. But his works were imaginative and engaging.

Pohl.

Niven.

I think that Science fiction is still going strong, it is just harder to find those that don't feel re-cycled because, well, we have a greater wealth of what we consider science fiction to choose from. But a good story is a good story, the background is incidental.

A few recomendations, that if you haven't read, I strongly recommened:

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller.

The Postman, David Brin.

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde.

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Re: The Greats have gone

I wouldn't personally put David Weber on the same level as some of those greats, but there certainly are more recent sci-fi authors I would put on that level, or that might be headed that way with a few more titles under their belts. Not many, but that's the point about greats - they are rare.

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Re: The Greats have gone

The 1920s onwards were times of great change in technology and its effects on the organisation of society. To some extent we are now seeing or anticipating the realisation of what sci-fi saw then as the apparently "impossible" future developments.

It is difficult to see what current young authors can add to the mix when so many possibilities have already been explored so thoroughly. Has the fantasy genre become the new area for creative writing?

Yep, nothing much has changed in the last 20 years (apart from the internet, mobile technology, robotics, genetics, etc). It must be a struggle to find something to write about

I think the big change in Science Fiction is that we have moved away from using science fiction as a mirror to what is happening now to purely fantasy. The greats, Aldiss, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Dick et al wrote about the human condition and how change effects us. There are a still few who do the same Banks(RIP), Bear, Reynolds spring to mind, but they do seem to be fewer and fewer

This could be rather than too little change, the pace of change is to great, meaning that any science fiction set 10 years ahead will probably be overtaken by the time it is out.

Wouldn't it be an irony is the coming of a technology singularity was the cause of the death of the very science fiction that predicted it...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The 1920s onwards

If we are going to mention possible sci-fi themes going back into the mists of time - then it should include E.M.Forster. As well as his famous "romantic" novels he also did what could be called fantasy stories.

However he made a significant contribution to sci-fi in 1909 with the short story "The Machine Stops". An uncanny prediction of the social effects of the World Wide Web. Even the BBC "The Book Programme" once misattributed that story to H.G.Wells.

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Re: The Greats have gone

And who is to replace them?

There's still a lot of good stuff being written. In addition to those that have been mentioned by other commentards I might add Jack McDevitt who can be relied upon for a well-told yarn incorporating plausible protagonists, Walter John Williams who writes well in a surprisingly broad range of SF sub-genres, Neal Stephenson, Justina Robson whose early work reminds me of John Brunner (in a good way), Liz Williams ...

Whether any of these will be deemed by future readers to be "Greats" I can't say, but there's a lot of potential out there.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Greats have gone

Your mileage may vary, but I quite like Neal Asher - his Polity universe is the conservative version of Banks' Culture. Not quite at the same level, but an enjoyable read.

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Re: The 1920s onwards

"However he made a significant contribution to sci-fi in 1909 with the short story "The Machine Stops". An uncanny prediction of the social effects of the World Wide Web."

Radio4 made a stonkingly good adaptation of that story.

On the same lines folk should read "The Shockwave Rider" by John Brunner - his vision from 1973 about how our lives would be online, and we'd run our lives from our mobile phones, was really quite prescient. It's a shame he died in such obscurity.

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Re: The 1920s onwards

m0rt,

I agree. It seems odd to say all the greats are in the past. Also, what does great mean anyway? Philip K Dick had some great ideas, but a lot of his writing was pretty rubbish. He banged quite a few of his books out in a few weeks, just to pay the bills. And it shows. I still think 'A Scanner Darkly' is brilliant, and his stuff seems to be more variable in quality than most.

I've been disappointed by plenty of books from "the greats", as well as from other writers. Sometimes because an idea just doesn't quite work out, or maybe works for other readers but not me personally. Or because they had a deadline to meet. You get made a great for your body of work, ignoring your early mistakes and occasional bits of dodgy output.

Another vote for C J Cherryh. Sadly she got sidetracked into a long series (Foreigner) a while ago, that I guess sells well, so the publishers keep asking for more. And it's gone on way too long. Which is a shame, because she's had a wide and varied output, doing some space opera, some interestingly different fantasy, some alien world-building and a good bit of where does the future of the human race go stuff (hint: often not in very cheerful directions).

Just to cheer you up, she's apparently finished a book called 'Alliance Rising' which is set in the Alliance-Union universe (where Rimrunners is also set).

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Re: The Greats have gone

Without hesitation I would add Iain M Banks to the list of those who have passed but find hope for the future in the writings of Liu Cixin. His trilogy (The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest and Death's End) are philosophically challenging, educational, moving and quite topical.

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Re: The Greats have gone

@Yet Another Anonymous Coward

But Iain M Banks was not one of them.

Read The Hydrogen Sonata closely and you'll understand that it contains a metaphor for Banks's own view of SF. The "almost unplayable piece of music" for an "almost unplayable instrument" was written not as a challenging, intellectual piece of almost pure cerebration but as a biting satire on certain types of music and in no way represented the composer's musical tastes. One can view Banks's SF in the same vein.

That's the problem with postmodern literature. You can read any damned thing into it that you want, but the actual truth is that the author is too far up his own arse. I mean it not as a compliment but as an insult to both Banks and the Booker Prize to say that Banks richly deserved a Booker prize.

Yeah, I know, I'm going to get a gazillion downvotes on this.

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Re: The Greats have gone

@Justicesays

I have to agree with you about Hamilton, Stross and Reynolds. The cream of the current crop. Well, that's if you prefer your SF hard rather than soft, squishy and postmodern.

I've not read any of Baxter's early stuff. His _Long Earth_ collabs with Pratchett were OK, but I'm probably judging them in a better light than they deserve because of Pratchett.

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Re: The 1920s onwards

Have an upvote for mentioning Jasper fforde!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Greats have gone

And who is to replace them?

Alastair Reynolds? A few years back I'd have added Steven Baxter, but he's seriously gone downhill.

Charles Stross is doing good things, but has been caught on the 'endless sequels == more cash' treadmill a bit. The occasional sex scenes he writes are cringeworthy. But apart from that, he's enjoyable, good - but not great (yet).

P.S. I like Jasper Fforde, but until he writes the damn sequel to Shades of Grey, he's getting no publicity from me (except this bit).

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Re: The Greats have gone

I like Dan Simmons. And I have a soft spot for William Gibson.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Greats have gone

I was just about to suggest Richard Morgan

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Re: The Greats have gone

Surprised I have got this far with nobody mentioning Adrian Tchaikovksy's Children Of Time one of the most enjoyable SF novels I have read lately.

Also weird that everyone has apparently forgotten Neal Stephenson - Seveneves is pretty hard sci-fi and a lot of fun with it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The 1920s onwards

LesB: Have an upvote for giving an up vote for mentioning Jasper Fforde!

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Re: The Greats have gone

and you didn't need a crane to lift the novel off the coffee table.

I wonder how much of that is the market.

The golden age writers were in the magazine era, you had only a few pages to tell the story because even pulp printing was expensive

On the bookstore shelf today it doesn't look good value to be buying a 50page book for the same price as one 3 inches thick

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Re: The 1920s onwards

Brunner was too clever and erudite to become popular. His books are, IMHO, some of the very best-quality SF ever writen. Both as SF and as literature.

Not unlike Aldiss, come to think of it.

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Re: The Greats have gone

People who are too heavy on "technology" and not well enough acquainted with history are apt to make hilarious mistakes in estimating the rate of progress and understanding when the really important advances were made.

My favourite example was Tony Blair pouring scorn on "the Victorian era" as crudely primitive. Whereas in fact that was when almost all the really big breakthroughs were made that have contributed to our present civilisation.

I'll give this idea away free to anyone who is looking for a "steampunk" theme to equal "The Difference Engine". What if Babbage and Ada Lovelace had got together with Faraday and Maxwell? Babbage and Maxwell both studied at Cambridge (although Maxwell was much younger) and both must have been very familiar with Faraday's results.

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RJG

Re: The Greats have gone

I'll just recommend "Watching Trees Grow" by Hamilton as an example of what he can do when he cuts out the excessive padding.

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Stop

Re: The Greats have gone

I believe Banks was once accused (by a snobbish critic) of writing potboiler SF in order to fund his real literature.

He said, hell no. His 'real literature' sold vastly better than the SF. He said that one of the reasons he wrote in two distinct genres was that that let the 'real literature' subsidise the SF, which is what he really enjoyed doing...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Greats have gone

Agreed. Adrian Tchaikovksy's Children Of Time is very good. His series "Shadows of the Apt" is pretty good too.

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Re: The Greats have gone

Peter F Hamilton (apart from night's dawn, mostly due to the ending).

Charles Stross

Alastair Reynolds

Stephen Baxter

You missed Neil Asher. The only person to create a Sci Fi universe to compete with Bank's Culture. Granted, it is a competition which it loses, but it comes close second.

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Anonymous Coward

There is a Web of Stories video series of Brian Aldiss remembering his life.

It consists of several pages - each containing an index of ten short videos. They are episodic but are not in strict chronological order - as he jumps about in his reminiscences. One video did clarify that an apparently improbable part of the plot in "The Hand-Reared Boy" was autobiographical.

His childhood was quite miserable - with both parents lacking affection for him. His mother's brother was a major positive influence on him during a short stay at his grandmother's house - just before was packed off to boarding school at the age of 5.

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Unhappy

Did not realize he was still alive.

And of course now he is isn't

RIP Brian.

As for the current crop of UK SF writers I'd give Stross, Hamilton and Brockmyre a good shot.

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Re: Did not realize he was still alive.

Sad to hear about his death.

Of the alternatives, I have tried several times to read one of Peter F Hamiltons tomes but failed. Just far too wordy for me.

They make good door stops though since I sent the volumes of 'Method 1' to recycling.

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Re: Did not realize he was still alive.

Brockmyre?

I've heard of Brookmyre, but his stuff is essentially comedy built around various themes like crime, politics (a variant of crime), mystery, etc. Yeah, he did a few books that had a scientific element which debunked woo and/or fraud, but they don't really qualify as SF any more than Scooby Doo does.

That said, his Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks is one of my favourites. And there is a lot of debunking woo in it. But I still wouldn't label it SF.

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Pint

Super-Toys

I wonder what Brian thought of the latest series of Cloud enabled toys that have come out that are on their way to emulating "David".

I'll raise a glass to one of the people who inspired my love of Sci-Fi as a child.

Vail Brian Aldiss.

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Headmaster

Re: Super-Toys

Vail Brian Aldiss.

Vale?

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Pint

Re: Super-Toys

You can read it here in your lunch hour...

https://www.wired.com/1997/01/ffsupertoys/

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Hothouse

Not one mention so far - that was the book that started me on science fiction, lo those many years ago. I am rather fond of the Helliconia series too.

Regarding other UK authors: I'd agree with the short lists above, though Baxter is not greatly to my taste, but I hate to point out to YetAnotherAC that he missed the words 'the late' from 'Iain M Banks'.

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Re: Hothouse

I found Helliconia to be his best work and I must read it again.

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Coat

Re: Hothouse

Agreed - I'm sure it's on my reader somewhere

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Re: Baxter

I've read very little Baxter, but I loved "Evolution" - and I think it could well be set as a school textbook. (Or by some less unappealing name, ideally). It's a page-turner, a real doorstop, yet when you've finished it you have unconsciously absorbed a short history of the evolution of hom sap.

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Anonymous Coward

I admired Brian Aldiss

For complaining to the BBC that they ignored him. He had enough stature, and his stories were interesting enough, to be adapted for TV. I don't think they ever did anything of his on TV but there were a number of radio adaptations after he took them to task

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